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Elizabeth City
Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The exam software company behind the online bar exam says it’s beefed up support staff and tech, but February test-takers are bracing themselves for glitches

Must read

  • Would-be lawyers in nearly all states are taking the online bar exam this week.
  • Software provider ExamSoft has previously been slammed for issues like tech glitches and data privacy.
  • From doubling its support staff to updating its software, here are the changes ExamSoft says it’s made.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Nearly every state is holding their remote bar examinations on Tuesday and Wednesday, but many test-takers have concerns that tech glitches and other issues from the October bar exam are still lingering.

ExamSoft, the remote test-taking and proctoring software that’s being used by many states, faced a flurry of criticism and outrage following the previous exam in October. Examinees voiced concerns over data security, facial recognition software that allegedly led to racial discrimination, and technical glitches — some of which prevented some test-takers from accessing the test, as previously reported by Insider.

The scale of the outrage, which led to calls for diploma privilege and other bar exam changes, even prompted government officials to speak up. In December, a group of senators, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Cory Booker, wrote a letter to ExamSoft calling for clarity around these concerns.

The software company responded that there were no major issues to change.

Insider spoke with ExamSoft about test-takers’ main concerns. Here’s what they had to say.

Increased support staff for tech glitches

ExamSoft said that it’s more than doubled its support staff since October to accommodate the higher volume of calls before and on exam days, but declined to disclose the total number of staff members it will have for the February 23-24 exam.

“We make it a priority to have our staffing at a level that minimizes hold times and enables quick resolution of cases. Exam volumes vary throughout the year, which means staffing levels may vary as well,” Nici Sandberg, spokesperson of ExamSoft, said.

During the October exam, many test-takers had reported long wait times with the software company’s customer support hotline after they encountered technical issues.

However, some February examinees are still encountering tech glitches. While completing the mock exams, Liz Gil, a recent graduate of the Duke University School of Law, said that she experienced intermittent screen-flashing, and had to try a few times to get a video file to upload. She’s also heard of computers running hot, forced shutdowns, and compromised passwords.

Despite these continuing tech glitches, examinees are still spending hours on the phone with ExamSoft support, per a Tweet from Diploma Privilege for New York, a group advocating for automatic entry into the bar.

Responding to Insider’s question about these issues, ExamSoft’s Sandberg said that technical glitches are “unlikely to occur” if exam-takers have a device that meets their operating system minimum system requirements.

“However, we have continued to improve error messages to make issues clearer to users,” she said.

Concerns over data privacy and facial recognition

Data security is another major concern of test-takers, especially given the fact that the remote exams require them to download software onto their personal computers. Last summer, ExamSoft was slammed after multiple people reported that their personal information — from passwords to credit card numbers — was compromised after they used the software.

ExamSoft said that no breach in data occurred. The attack, which “appeared to be designed specifically to disrupt the password delivery” for the Michigan bar exam in July 2020, “was promptly detected, stopped, and thwarted by our team without any compromise to data or software corruption, and all candidates were able to successfully complete the exam. ExamSoft worked with our network provider to promptly put additional security in place so they could avoid future disruptions,” said Sandberg in an emailed statement to Insider.

“What bothers me the most is that you have no choice. They are going to be able to use this data, and the restrictions on it are largely a matter of trust,” said Zack Burley, a graduate of the Sturm College of Law who’s taking the bar exam in Denver.

Sandberg said that ExamSoft does not sell users’ personal information, nor do they share it with anyone outside the service providers that are necessary for delivering the exams. 

She added that ExamSoft hired an independent digital forensics firm, Stroz Friedberg, to review the Examplify product and ExamSoft’s data collection practices prior to the October bar exams last year.

The review confirmed that users’ information is encrypted; that ExamSoft does not receive or have access to users’ payment information; and that Examplify only accesses test-takers’ information “when it is necessary to administer the exam.”

Concerns over data privacy are only exacerbated by the facial recognition technology used by ExamSoft. Not only are examinees recorded during the course of the exam for proctoring purposes, but they also have to submit photographs of themselves to verify their identities.

Some test-takers, especially those with darker skin tones, have reported that the ExamSoft software failed to recognize them, sparking claims of discrimination.

According to Sandberg, the facial recognition software matches photos that the test-takers themselves pick, and so only flags a user if they don’t align. She added that it’s ultimately in the hands of the “humans at the jurisdictions” who review any anomalies flagged by the software and make any final determinations on candidate identifications, not the software. 

A last-minute software update

February examinees were hit with a new software update from Examplify, ExamSoft’s testing software — just two weeks before the test date.

For test-takers who are studying for arguably the most important exam of their legal careers, taking a couple of hours to download, test, and troubleshoot the software is seen as precious time taken away from their studies.

Registrants have since received “URGENT” email reminders to complete the new mock exam that accompanies the software update — everyday at precisely 3:22 a.m. E.T. — despite the fact that it’s optional, Gil, the graduate from Duke, told Insider.

More than two-thirds of registrants have completed the mock exam as of Monday morning, ExamSoft’s Sandberg said.

The new Examplify update includes support for Apple devices using M1 processors, a “new experience” to access PDF attachments as requested by users, and “a number of both technical and user-experience improvements.”

Meghna Batra, another Duke Law graduate, said that having to take the mock exam — now the fourth for February test-takers — is “frustrating.” She added that she found the last-minute update “worrying,” since it raises the question of potential issues that may be lurking with the software.

“Law students tend to be the guinea pigs here,” said Burley, the Sturm Law graduate.


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