On Saturday I posted information regarding jurisdictions banning use of the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar function on the February 2017 bar exam. I’ve been updating it as additional jurisdictions make decisions about whether to ban its use. This post is for those wondering why the MacBook Pro has become an issue.
The Touchbar function makes the MacBook Pro similar to an iPhone: it has predictive typing and it learns the user’s vocabulary. This means that during an exam (not just the bar exam) the Touchbar function will automatically suggest words. Not only could a student type more information but might also get assistance with common legal terms and phrases. In addition, the Touchbar is a “multi-touch OLED display panel.” A huge thank you to Kirsha Trychta at West Virginia College of Law who explained that this is basically a mini menu screen embedded in the keyboard.
Why does this matter? The bar exam is a closed-universe test which means examinees must answer questions based on the knowledge in their head. No outside information. Depending on the jurisdiction, examinees must answer 6-12 essay questions covering 9-12 distinct subject areas. It is a high stakes test and security is no joke. There is no internet access during the test. In most jurisdictions, examinees are not permitted to wear watches, hats, or jackets; they may not bring in any sort of purse or computer bag, nor can they use highlighters or pencils. I think you see some of the issues the Touchbar presents.
Can’t you just disable the function? As of now, Examsoft (the testing program) can’t automatically disable the function. There is a way to manually disable it, which is why a few jurisdictions are permitting examinees to use the MacBook Pro. However, this raises another issue- although exam proctors can verify that the Touchbar is disabled at the start of the exam, can they ensure an examinee can’t and won’t enable it later? This might be why most jurisdictions are banning the new MacBook Pro altogether.
The good news is that jurisdictions seem to be waiving the fee to register another laptop. The bad news is that MacBook Pro owners have less than three weeks to get another laptop and get used to using it.
For those taking the February 2017 bar exam and own a new MacBook Pro, contact your jurisdiction ASAP to find out whether it is banned.
We don’t know what the situation will be for the July 2017 bar exam. That’s far enough away that Examsoft might develop a way to automatically disable the Touchbar.
2/2 Update for Jurisdictions using Exam4: According to Greg Sarab from Extegrity (Exam4): “Extegrity fields a full team of highly qualified tech staff… at all of our bar exams… This gives us the capacity to comfortably assist examinees before each session, and be able to keep an eye on things while they type.” You must manually disable the Touch Bar function but according to Exam4, techs will be at the exam to assist with disabling the App Controls, and confirm it has been done. Sarab also said that once in Exam4, you can’t get back in to change settings.