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GPSolo eReport

GPSolo eReport June 2024

Taking the Bar Exam Remotely: How the Plague of 2020 Blessed New Lawyers

Lindsay Pyfrom


  • One would assume that taking the bar exam during the COVID-19 pandemic would only heighten the anxiety surrounding an already stressful process. This was not the author’s experience.
  • The author was one of the first participants in a remote bar exam, and she found it to be a game-changer.
Taking the Bar Exam Remotely: How the Plague of 2020 Blessed New Lawyers
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When telling stories about taking the bar exam, most survivors develop a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach. This is PTSD at its finest. One would assume that taking the bar exam during the COVID-19 pandemic would only make matters worse. This was not my experience.

COVID and the Rise of the Remote Bar Exam

There are far fewer distractions when the economy shuts down. While I feel for all the business owners who lost income or their livelihood during the economic shutdown, I was personally less distracted by the pull of Taco Tuesday. After weeks of eating, breathing, and sleeping BARBRI prep courses, even a dentist appointment sounded like a fun afternoon outing. Fortunately, my study regimen was unaffected as even routine medical appointments were delayed to limit a rapidly spreading virus.

During COVID, my state bar permitted remote test-taking to limit the further spreading of the plague. As one of the first participants in a remote bar exam, I would like to emphatically communicate how much of a game-changer this was. The standard testing environment can best be described as a cattle herd of twitchy participants packed into a cootie-filled auditorium about to experience a nervous breakdown in public. You’re never alone in the heavily monitored test space. There are lines to use the bathroom, excessive regulations on what can or cannot be taken into the exam room, and never-ending distractions from every sneezing or coughing attendee. In my humble opinion, this environment is not conducive to a positive testing experience.

Compare this to the COVID-induced luxury of remote bar exam testing from a hotel room. There is no comparison. There was no bathroom line, an ample supply of toilet paper, no risk of public tears, and I had complete control of the room’s temperature with my very own thermostat. The California Bar Exam is not known for being a “fun” life experience, but I would deem this testing circumstance to be pleasant when compared to an in-person proctored exam.

The remote experience was not available pre-COVID. With great appreciation, I would like to thank COVID for ushering in the era of remote testing for California Bar Exam applicants. The plague of 2020 afforded me a unique opportunity—to tackle this unequivocally difficult life hurdle from the comfort of my own hotel room and without an ambitious proctor trying to take away my ChapStick. For any confused readers, ChapStick is a prohibited item that cannot be brought into bar exam testing facilities. I’m not sure who has ever successfully cheated with this accessory, but someone must have pulled it off an incredible stunt to have such a ridiculous regulation imposed. For this remote exam, I had full-access ChapStick, and it was glorious.

Passing the California bar exam is a confusing experience. Of course, this is an exciting moment. The marathon is over. The lifestyle that previously gave vibes of Groundhog’s Day has finally been put to rest, and yet it is impossible to shake the feeling that the other shoe is about to drop or that something important must have been forgotten. This is another symptom of PTSD, which is unavoidable regardless of how one takes the exam. These PTSD-induced feelings of unease can’t be blamed on COVID, but the requirement to wear a mask when sharing the good news of passing the exam certainly can be.

After the Bar Exam

Then, a new challenge arises—finding employment. You know what is difficult? Finding employment during COVID.

The economy was recovering from a temporary shutdown, and businesses didn’t have additional resources for hiring. It took me nearly a year to begin working in an attorney role.

You know what else was difficult? Finding employment pre-COVID.

Anyone who has applied to an endless sea of online job listings knows the struggle. I have wondered many times if I was an unknowing participant in a much larger joke or social experiment. It is hard to believe that more than 100 applications could be submitted with no viable responses. My spam folder still struggles to keep up after creating profiles with so many individual companies that I’m sure were only interested in my email, demographics, and personal information for marketing purposes. While the search for employment during COVID was difficult, this stage was no different than the pre-COVID employment search as a law school graduate.

An Unlikely Advantage

In an apples-to-apples comparison of the bar exam test experience and employment search process before and during the COVID rampage, COVID drastically improved my California Bar Exam testing experience and had limited effect on my job search. Even with the overall stress and chaos imposed, I wouldn’t change a thing.