“The objective is to measure whether the Bar taker possesses the minimum skills, knowledge and competence to practice the legal profession in the Philippines.”
One can say that the planning, preparation, and actual conduct of the 2021-2022 Bar Examinations was well-thought, resulting in, arguably, one of the best bar operations in recent memory, considering that it was held in the midst of a pandemic.
With more than 11,000 examinees and multiple examination sites, and untested innovations and protocols introduced, there were enough variables that could have made the event problematic.
Thanks to the Supreme Court Bar Chairman Associate Justice Marvic Leonen and hundreds of proctors and facilitators, this bar, among others, exemplifies excellent adaptive and crisis management. This will be studied for how great leadership overcomes the biggest of obstacles and challenges.
The innovations introduced in this year’s bar exams include the scrapping of the traditional ranking of naming the top 10 bar topnotchers; localizing online examinations held in key cities and regional centers nationwide; modifying the traditional modality like reducing the coverage of the exams and limiting the number of exam days to two with only one day apart. Some innovations required quick judgments and were designed to address pandemic-related issues, but a few are long-desired structural reforms that many of us legal educators have advocated for in the past.
By giving emphasis on school performance rather than individual excellence for example—doing away with the topnotcher list and replacing this with a list of excellent and exemplary law passers—law schools are given added motivation to refocus their efforts and resources to their overall performance. This will encourage law schools to adopt more deep-seated and lasting reforms, like emphasizing clinical legal education than enhancing the performance of the school as a legal education provider.
As one of this year’s examiners, I had to read and reread thousands upon thousands of answers. It is no exaggeration that the sheer volume of exams to check could be backbreaking and required enormous physical and mental strain. In the six weeks I checked the exams, the music of Taylor Swift and Ben and Ben accompanied and helped me cope with the tedium. “All too well’ was my favorite song because I could check many answers in 10 minutes; but I also liked State of Grace, Daylight, and The Joker and the Queen as these songs inspired me and enabled me to be in a good mood checking the answers. Leaves, Lifetime, Bibingka, Pasalubong, and Kapangyarihan of Ben and Ben had the same effect.
I have taught over 500 of this year’s exam takers, most of them in their first year constitutional law subjects and in as many as a dozen schools in Metro Manila and Mindanao. I have also taught many deans and law professors and wanted to do this assignment well for them. I am of course grateful to Justice Leonen for the honor of being one of the political law examiners. It turned out that the other examiners in the subject were former students of mine as well.
Fortunately, the bar exams this year for the first time were digitalized, which made the checking much more bearable compared to the old system that involved leafing through thousands of physical booklets, oftentimes deciphering the handwriting of many with poor penmanship. Electronic writing eliminated the penmanship factor, i.e. whether or not the writing is legible. It enabled the examinees to review, modify, and improve how they would present the answers, and refined the grammar via their computer. I noticed that most, if not all, the answers were well written, some in flawless grammar and with minimal spelling errors.
The holding of the exams in key cities and regional centers nationwide also made the testing sites more accessible. Unlike before where the examinees would be forced to stay in Manila, the “probinsyanos”, especially those coming from Mindanao or other far-flung areas of the country, took the exams without travelling outside their home province. The previous system was unjust and inequitable.
Digitalization and regionalization at the minimum should become the rule in future bar exams. Having non-Manila based bar examiners like Dean Joan Largo of San Carlos University in Cebu and Professor Lulu Reyes of Saint Louis University in Baguio should also be de rigueur from now on.
Bar Bulletin No. 30 2022 also introduced modifications to traditional modality like reducing the coverage of the exams and limiting the number of days to two. Streamlining the coverage allowed the examinees to plan and adopt a better review strategy, focusing only on relevant materials based on the guideline provided. For political law, it was a joy to confirm that political law professors everywhere taught the same basics—principles and precedents—to all students regardless of law school and physical location.
Bar exams should not be all about being able to perform mental calisthenics or mental contortions or to determine who among the bar takers have the best memory. Rather the objective is to measure whether the bar taker possesses the minimum skills, knowledge, and competence to practice the legal profession in the Philippines. The #bestbar2020-2021 did just that, thanks to the Supreme Court, Justice Alex Gesmundo, and Justice Leonen for making that happen.
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