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July’s remote bar exam brought solid pass rate despite COVID-19 pandemic

Donald Tobin, Ronald Weich

University of Maryland Carey Law School Dean Donald Tobin, left, and University of Baltimore School of Law Dean Ronald Weich. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

More than two-thirds of test-takers passed the Maryland bar during the July examination, the first summer test to take place as scheduled since the COVID-19 pandemic upended normal rules in 2020.

The July passage rate of 68% was only slightly lower than the previous year’s, which is not directly comparable because the pandemic forced the State Board of Law Examiners to offer an abbreviated test in October after the July 2020 exam was canceled.

The July 2021 test took place remotely, rather than in person.

Most of the 865 people who sat for the exam were first-time takers, who passed at a rate of 78%. The July exam typically sees more first-time test takers than the smaller February exam.

The summer exam also marked the third year in which test-takers took the Uniform Bar Examination, rather than a Maryland-specific version of the test.

Graduates of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law saw an overall pass rate of 81% among 161 test-takers, according to the SBLE. For graduates of the University of Baltimore School of Law, the overall passage rate was 64% among 212 test- takers.

Among first-time takers, the passage rate at UM Carey was 85% and at UB Law was 73%.

“Our students deserve credit for their resiliency,” said Donald Tobin, the dean of UM Carey. “These are difficult times. They’re difficult positions for them to be in, and being able to really focus and move forward and complete their education, I think we’re seeing a group of students who really understand what it is to persevere and be resilient.”

Tobin credited bar officials for finding ways to administer the bar exam during the COVID-19 pandemic, and said that he believes the future of the test will include the use of computers.

“I think that the development in which students can take the bar exam in an easier process, whether that be remote or otherwise, is important,” he said.

For now, though, the SBLE is planning to administer the February test in person and on paper.

According to an administrative order from Maryland’s Court of Appeals, the February exam will be limited to 500 seats and test-takers will be separated by vaccination status. The February exam has seen fewer than 500 test-takers every year since 2017, SBLE data shows.

Test-takers will be required to show proof of vaccination or, alternatively, submit a negative COVID-19 test on the first day of the February exam, according to the order.

The remote tests have brought technical challenges, said Ronald Weich, the dean of UB Law, making it difficult to compare exam results from the past several sessions.

Weich said the transition back to an in-person bar exam is “a good development.”

“That’s how the bar should be administered, so there’s no threat of technology failing and everybody’s on an even playing field,” he said.