As a clinical psychologist who specializes in assisting students gain much needed testing accommodations on the Bar Exam I am aware that there is a pervasive misconception about this process in the minds of test takers. Most students believe that it is next to impossible to be granted testing accommodations (such as extra time, a private testing room, taking the exam in 6 days as opposed to 3 days etc…), but this simply is not the case. As someone who has interacted with the State Bar of California countless times on behalf of students, I can firmly say that I find them to be generally fair and at times even sympathetic to students who require testing accommodations. I believe that the misconception that it is next to impossible to be granted these types of accommodations on the exam stem from many students’ past experiences attempting to gain accommodations on the LSAT. LSAC is difficult and generally unfair in their dealings with students’ needs. They deny the vast majority of applications for accommodations within populations of students who legitimately do provide evidence that accommodated testing is necessary. As a result they have been sued myriad times for not abiding with the American’s with Disabilities Act. The State Bar of California has proven to be more even handed in their dealings with students who require accommodated testing.
The American’s with Disabilities Act stipulates that students with current verification that they experience substantial limitations in major life activities such as concentrating, thinking and reading should be provided testing accommodations. Clearly concentrating, thinking and reading are not only major life activities, but ESSENTIAL ACTIVITIES with respect to taking and passing the California State Bar Exam. Students with diagnoses such as ADHD, learning disorders (including information processing deficits), anxiety disorders and mood disorders often require extended time on the Bar Exam because they may be unable to read, comprehend and process information as quickly as their peers. Being unable to complete the Bar Exam certainly presents an undue burden on a student hoping to pass the exam. Students with long and documented histories of receiving accommodations in school for these issues are able to present very strong evidence to the Bar that they should continue receiving accommodations, but those without any history of ever receiving testing accommodations are not automatically denied. In fact, I have seen many students who have completed law school without ever even asking for testing accommodations be approved for testing accommodations on the Bar Exam. The reason for this is that while one’s history matters, it is essential to any petition for accommodations that substantial, persuasive and current data is presented to support one’s application.
The most common reason a deserving applicant is denied accommodations is because an evaluator did not present information regarding the nature of a student’s weaknesses in a cogent, linear and persuasive manner. Many physicians and psychologists believe that if they simply recommend accommodations and provide cursory rationale, the Bar will approve the application. This is not the case. When assisting a student with a request for testing accommodations I write a 20-25 page report explaining in detail why accommodations are necessary while addressing all the relevant points that the Bar requires. I address a student’s life history, educational history, current test results and an explanation of how all of the information fits together in a way that presents compelling evidence that a student requires testing accommodations.
Any student who struggles with attention, concentration, reading speed, reading comprehension, time management or severe test anxiety should seek consultation with an expert well versed in Bar Exam testing accommodations, regardless of their past history or lack thereof accommodations. Those with significant weaknesses in the aforementioned areas are at a serious competitive disadvantage on the Bar Exam, and require accommodations to have a fair chance at expressing the full extent of their intelligence and legal knowledge.
Dr. Jared Maloff