Bar exams are underway all across this great nation. It’s an exciting time for the next crop of young lawyers (at least “exciting” in the sense that being trapped in a mall while zombies swarm around trying to eat your brains is certainly not dull).

In Tennessee, where the bar exam starts tomorrow, the state Board of Law Examiners has found a way to make things even more exciting for test takers. Over the weekend, a rumor surfaced that the grading for the July bar exam would be different than the grading for previous tests.

How? In what way? What would it affect? What does it mean?

I’d like to imagine every Tennessee test taker trying to ask those questions at the exact same time all at once, thereby providing the first direct evidence that we must be living in a universe with more than four dimensions.

Alas, the change turned out to be a minor one — to the extent that any “change” can be called minor, when you only learn about it the day before the bar exam…

From the outset, this year’s Tennessee bar takers were going to be breaking new ground. A tipster explains:

This is the first year that the scoring of the essays will be scored rather than pass-fail. The old way was that if you got a 135 scaled score on the Multistate, you need to answer 9 of 12 essays with a pass; 140 and you had to answer 8, 145 and you had to answer 7. Now you have to get a combined scaled score of 270.

This change was already successfully implemented back in February. But over the weekend, people began to worry that new essay scoring was going to be different again for the July administration of the exam:

Barbri and everyone studying with them were under the impression that it was just an overall combined score of 270. But then, last week, they got an inkling they were wrong. And over the weekend it’s come out that you need a overall combined score of 270 AND no less than a score of 135 on the multistate and the essays.

No big deal really, but the folks who might have gotten through with a 134 on one and a 136 on the other are now failing. The University of Tennessee is upset, Memphis is furious, and the Nashville School of Law is … well, resigned to their usual poor performance.

Ah, the essay section. The red herring of all bar exams. If you find yourself spending significant study time on the essays, either you are getting 90% of your MBE questions correct, or you’re wasting boatloads of time.

Still, you can see how changing how the essays are graded between the February and July administration would freak a lot of people out. Good thing that Tennessee really didn’t change all that much.

Here’s an email sent out by the Dean of Students at Vanderbilt Law. There is a change in essay grading, but it’s minor and it actually benefits test takers:

I know there has been some recent confusion and concern about the grading of the Tennessee Bar Exam and so wanted to send a message of reassurance. We’ve been in contact with the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners, who reiterated that the grading process for this bar exam has NOT changed, but is the same as for the February 2011 exam, except that the grade of “zero” for the essay answers has been eliminated (which will actually be a benefit to bar takers).

The following quotation is the official response from the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners with regard to questions recently raised about the grading process:

“Tennessee implemented a new scoring system beginning with the February 2011 bar exam. Graders evaluate candidate’s responses to each of the 12 Tennessee-developed essay exercises on a 1 to 6 scale, where 6 indicates the highest level of performance, and 1 indicates the lowest level of performance. The scores from the candidate’s 12 essays are summed to form a single score for the written portion of the bar examination. This score is statistically placed on the MBE scale. Each candidate’s written score is added to the candidate’s MBE score to create a total score. Candidates with a total score of 270 or above were considered to have achieved a passing status. This procedure is consistent with procedures followed by almost all the jurisdictions.”

See, it’s all good. Everything is going to be fine. Don’t take my word for it; listen to this Vanderbilt administrator as she gives some final sugary sweet advice:

Continue in your efforts as you prepare to do your best on both portions of the exam, and remember that you have the skills and intellectual strengths necessary to succeed in this endeavor. Be certain to also take care of yourselves, getting sufficient nutrition and sleep, as those are crucial in undertaking this lengthy exam. And try your best not to get stressed out! Know we’ll be sending positive thoughts your way. The end is in sight!

I love it when people use exclamation points to tell people to not be stressed. It’s the equivalent of slapping someone across the face and yelling “calm down.”

In any event, let’s hope Tennessee test takers don’t go into the exam worrying about how the stupid essay section will be graded. Because the people who do that are probably going to fail. At this point, the best thing Tennessee test takers can do is to REMAIN CALM AT ALL TIMES, and SLEEP PEACEFULLY!!!!!

Here, I’ll give you something funny to watch (and for everybody who recognized the title of this post):


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