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ExamSoft, the software company that has been used by states to run online versions of the bar exam, will be paid upwards of $2 million in test-taking fees amid a slew of complaints with the service, from tech errors to data security concerns, Business Insider has found.
According to court and bar admissions officials at 14 of the 16 jurisdictions that held the exam this month, states paid or will pay ExamSoft anywhere from $47.50 to $120 per test-taker. More than 25,000 candidates sat for the October bar, which was held remotely. The official for the District of Columbia declined to disclose the cost per head, and officials in Illinois did not respond to multiple requests for information.
The high-stakes exam, held on October 5 and 6, didn’t go off without a hitch, placing ExamSoft under intense scrutiny by bar candidates and experts in the legal industry. Some test-takers, for example, reported issues with technical glitches and lags, as well as hours-long wait times with ExamSoft’s troubleshooting hotline.
And, as states are considering whether to take their February 2021 exam online, bar candidates’ fears of encountering similar problems are only being renewed.
Business Insider contacted the 16 jurisdictions that held the bar exam in October and asked for the total number of candidates who sat for the exam and the costs per head, payable to ExamSoft. Here’s what we found:
The total fees that the test-takers themselves pay to their state’s board of bar examiners to take the test vary from state to state. In some jurisdictions, candidates typically pay a separate laptop or licensing fee directly to the software company of around $100, while in others, candidates pay a lump application fee to their state’s board of examiners. This year, due to the pandemic, some states have said they’ve opted to cover the laptop fees, since all candidates had to use computers to take the online test.
Some of the figures provided by the states are estimates, as ExamSoft has not sent out invoices yet, according to state officials. An ExamSoft spokesperson told Business Insider that its client agreements do not allow disclosure of information pertaining to fees and expenses.
Some states are choosing to conduct remote February 2021 bar exams, renewing test-takers’ concerns over technical glitches, security, and discrimination
On October 21, the New York Court of Appeals announced that the state’s February 2021 bar exam will also be held remotely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. New York’s bar exam, which is the largest in the country, had delayed its original July exam to September, before postponing it once more to October and moving it online, as previously reported by Business Insider.
To date, six other jurisdictions — the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, and Tennessee — have also said they will be offering a remote bar exam next spring.
Although the New York court called the October bar “very successful” in a statement, a survey found that 40% of nearly 500 respondents reported internet or software disruptions during the exam. Nearly three-quarters described the experience as negative or very negative. The survey wasn’t a random sample, however. A total of 5,154 candidates completed the exam.
On top of the slew of technical glitches experienced by examinees, ExamSoft has also been in the hot seat over concerns with data security issues and facial recognition bias, which have led to accusations of racial discrimination. Test-takers also pointed out ExamSoft’s vulnerabilities to cheating during the remote exam, which was proctored by an AI software.
In addition, candidates with disabilities raised concerns about the accommodations, or lack thereof, that states made for test-takers who needed extra time, opportunities to take medication, or other similar changes.
“People with disabilities are the last to be considered, and that’s incredibly disheartening and frustrating,” Jeremy Wertz, a recent Harvard Law School graduate who is co-president of the National Disabled Law Students Association, previously told Business Insider.
ExamSoft’s acquisition by Turnitin is re-raising questions about data security during online exams
Compounding test-takers’ concerns over another remote bar exam in February, the anti-plagiarism software, Turnitin, announced it acquired ExamSoft on October 21. Spectrum Equity, the private equity firm that had owned ExamSoft, sold it for an undisclosed amount.
“By joining forces, Turnitin and ExamSoft become a single destination for institutions to uphold integrity at every stage in a student’s journey, from book reports and problem sets to high-stakes exams and professional licensure,” read the press release announcing the acquisition.
Critics, however, quickly took to online forums like Twitter and Reddit to raise concerns over the Turnitin’s own issues with server outages and data security.
“Nothing in its track record makes me think it’ll do any better than ExamSoft,” said Tom McMasters, a data privacy lawyer who studied for the most recent California bar exam.
“It could also be that, because of the deal, ExamSoft felt much more pressure on how it looked like it went, more so than the actual integrity of it,” he added, underscoring many test-takers’ fears of cheating due to technical problems during the remote exam.
Turnitin itself was acquired for $1.75 billion in 2019 by Advance Publications, which owns Condé Nast and American City Business Journals.
But there’s still time before the next bar exam — and ExamSoft might be booted out by some jurisdictions
For all of the concerns surrounding ExamSoft, there might be other options for February’s bar exam, according to Greg Sarab, the CEO of Extegrity, another test-taking software.
Extegrity, ExamSoft, and ILG Technologies had been the three software companies under consideration by states for the October online exam. Extegrity, however, pulled itself out of the October exams in July, citing that “remote proctoring was not envisioned for use on large-scale, simultaneous-start ‘event’ exams,” and would thus carry “undue risk” for examinees.
After technological issues in Nevada and Indiana’s bar exams in July, ILG Technologies was ultimately also dropped by Florida, leaving ExamSoft the only viable option for the October exam. ILG Technologies did not respond to requests for comment.
Sarab, however, says that now that there’s enough time ahead of February — as opposed to in July, when he felt that the time crunch would inevitably “slam things together at the last second — Extegrity is “definitely” going to be re-offering its software to states.
He told Business Insider that they’ve since had time to consider what tech features are essential to the board of bar examiners to ensure test-taking integrity — without any of the glitches or issues experienced by test-takers in October.
“We’ve gotten more information and had time to think about what’s really needed by bar examiners,” he said. “With the limitations of the technology and the crunched timeline in July, it just didn’t seem like something to be slammed together at the last second. But we’re prepared now.”
In response to questions regarding criticism that ExamSoft enjoys a monopoly on bar-exam administration, and whether it will be used for the February remote exams, a spokesperson at ExamSoft, said, “Jurisdictions have lots of options when it comes to exam software providers… For those who choose to work with us, we will be ready and available in whatever format.”