Cheating in the Bar Exams

Smoke made an interesting post recently on the widespread practice of distributing “tips” to bar examinees. These “special notes” or “tip sheets” are forecasted questions, with their supposed correct answers, put together on the basis of “a lot of strong analysis of past questions, trends, and a reasonably good guess as to the identity of the examiner”, according to Rom. This is supposed to give a “scientific” basis for generating the content of such tip sheets.

This questionable practice of giving out tips near or on the eve of the bar exams (or even just a few hours before the exam itself) , started with the frats who wanted to get a leg up on the competition and who had the connections and wherewithal to cobble together a last-minute guide for their bros. But this has now become widespread and institutionalized, with the law schools themselves at the forefront of putting out pointers for the exclusive use of their graduates. Which, of course, quickly spreads among the rest of the bar community. All part of the so-called “Bar Ops”.

Unfortunately for me, when I took the bar, the now commonplace bar ops were in their infancy. And thus the crafting of tips were haphazard, hit-or-miss affairs, more cross-eyed crystal-ball gazing than anything. Consequently, I never got a tip worth a damn, or maybe I was just too jittery on the eve of the tests to absorb the jumble of Q & As contained in the blurred photocopy handed to me. Or it could be my school or frat was just not connected enough to be able to pull the correct rabbits out of the hat. Although each tip was rumored to be a “sure thing”, a perception born of desperation, wishful-thinking and caffeine-induced, sleep-deprived delusional thinking.

Apparently, this has now become systematized, with the considerable resources of the major law firms even coming into play for their favored examinees.

Call me old-fashioned and a sour grape, but I find this state of affairs sad. It’s just not cricket, as the Brits would say, and places those law students coming less well-known or plugged-in schools at a distinct disadvantage.

And it’s obviously not as innocuous as it looks. Many times, these tips are actual leakages of bar exam questions. Recall the bar scandal in 2003 when a computer-challenged bar examiner typed out and saved the questions to his assigned subject in his hard drive, which was promptly accessed by his younger, tech-savvy associates via the office network and found their way to widely-distributed tip papers.

This practice plays into our penchant for seeking out a “connect” to gain an unfair advantage or get the inside track on things. To put it bluntly, this practically legitimizes a form of cheating. Clearly, not everyone has equal access to this info. And this “tip” culture has permeated other blind-graded professional exams as well. Just two years or so ago, the results of the nursing board exams were compromised due to a massive leak traced to certain review centers. The newly-minted nurses had to retake the exams in the subjects involved.

To be sure, cheating, or at least creative attempts to do so, has tainted the bar exams before. This runs the full gamut of perfidious practices, from the garden-variety “crib sheets in bodily orifices” to trying to influence the bar examiners themselves, and even the entire Supreme Court, by way of lowering the grades for passing. The strict confidentiality and impartiality required of bar examiners have been jeopardized more than a few times , as they are only human and are not immune to the importuning of relatives , friends and fraternal and professional chums . The intricacies of Philippine social relationships will almost guarantee that the bar examiners, once known, will be pressured to give out hints or to favor certain examinees. Hence, the absolute anonymity required of them.

In this, I suppose, we are heirs to ancient traditions and a fundamental impulse to circumvent the rules if we have a reasonable chance of getting away with it. Going back to my favorite example of the Chinese imperial examinations, which produced an elite class of mandarin-scholars, their chicanery come test time was described by Dennis Bloodworth in his classic “The Chinese Looking Glass” as follows:

At the Anching examinations some of the candidates found substitutes, and some slipped essays to each other. They were up to every conceivable trick: passing notes, throwing bricks, winking and making signs. One candidate, on the pretext that he must go to the latrine, slipped over the mud wall which surrounded the school, knocked a hole in it, and put his arm through to receive an essay from an accomplice. Cribbing and cheating, like poking the tongue into a hollow tooth, are all-conquering habits that straddle continents and time, it seems. Examiners were bribed, or persuaded to favor the protégés of their friends. Essays of certain candidates-identified despite the rule of anonymity-were put at the top of the list without even being read. Confucius himself might well have failed ignominiously to pass even his provincial examination in some reigns, and his essays would certainly have been thrown out in others.

Nice to know that we are not alone in dishonest, albeit innovative, exam-taking. Still, I wish that the nefarious practice of giving out tips would stop, although this will never happen unless radical changes are made in the format and structure of the exam itself or the requirements for admission to the profession.

3 thoughts on “Cheating in the Bar Exams”

  1. There should be a question in every bar-, nursing- and professional-examinations. For the applicant to define cheating (with a side-question of asking whether or not the study of “tip sheets” [forecasted questions, with their supposed correct] is cheating. ]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge