Supreme Court justices propose changes that would streamline bar exams

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 31 2019 09:58 PM

Two Supreme Court justices on Wednesday agreed that the bar exams should not be made especially difficult for those who take it. File/Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA—Two Supreme Court justices on Wednesday promised a more “reasonable” experience for those taking the bar examinations in the next two years.

Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, chair of the 2019 bar exams, and Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, chair of the 2020 bar exams, acknowledged this during the first Legal Education Summit at Manila Hotel.

Bernabe promised to filter out “unfair trivia questions” and those that “tend to mislead the examinees,” based on her observation that the perceived unpredictability of the bar exams has tended to throw examinees “off balance.”

She said she will ensure that the questions are spread out over various topics and that each question is bound to a “standard acceptable answer,” which the academic community can agree on.

She added that she reviewed the bar exams coverage in previous years and removed obsolete topics and organized its presentation to come up with a concise and a more relevant syllabi fit for today’s needs.

“The examination itself is already physically and mentally taxing. As such, the preparation should not be compounded by the examinees’ fear of having to read up on every available material on every possible area of law, not to mention the vast number of laws that we have in this country,” she said.

“The bar exams should not be made intentionally difficult for extraneous reasons. Institutional measures should be set to ensure that the Bar remains true to its purpose as the licensure exam for the legal profession.”

To address concerns of fairness in checking the bar exam booklets, Bernabe said she has proposed to adopt the two-examiner-per-subject policy, noting the growing number of exam takers each year.

In 2007, she said, there were only 5,626 candidates compared to 8,158 who took last year’s exams. This year, they are expecting a “staggering 9,000” examinees.

“With two experts working and sharing the burden for each bar subject, the consistency, efficiency and thoroughness of the assessment can be maximized, and the results can be released at a much earlier time,” she explained.


Leonen agreed with Bernabe that the bar exams should not be made especially difficult.

“Any intelligent, coherent justice will want the bar to simply be a qualifying exam. It is not an exam to find out the most brilliant of lawyers. It is only an exam to add into our ranks those lawyers that deserve to practice,” he said, saying the 2020 bar exams will not be unreasonable but “very reasonable.”

“Mag-postpone na kayo, sa akin na kayo pumunta,” he said in jest, drawing laughter from the crowd composed mostly of law deans, faculty and law students.

(Put off taking your bar exams and take it next year under me.)

He said it is time that the high court rethink the process of admission to the Bar.

He proposed three changes:

  • Introduce a simple pass/fail system;
  • Examine THE possibility of a computerized examinations to make it possible to hold bar exams in various areas and;
  • Immediately upload all bar questions and suggested answers in previous years on the Supreme Court website.

“I said propose. It depends on the collegial body composed of 15 justices, who, I will tell you, are very very supportive of what I say,” he teased the audience.

Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin had earlier indicated he prefers a simple pass or fail approach as part of his 4-point reform agenda.

The Legal Education Summit itself was organized in compliance with Bersamin’s reform agenda, hoping to transform “knowledge-based” approach in legal education to an “experiential process.”

“[T]he current approaches to Philippine legal education were now possibly inadequate, or were even outdated, and by all means needed to be enhanced,” he said of his realization following a visit to top law schools in the United States in October last year.

The high tribunal recently amended the student practice rule which now allows second year law students to represent clients in a limited capacity before administrative and quasi-judicial agencies. Previously, only fourth year law students were allowed to represent clients.

Clinical legal education, Leonen said, will now be among the requirements for taking the 2022 bar exams.