Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Supreme Court nullifies commercial law bar exams

It's a very unfortunate incident. Apparently, the 50 bar questions from which the bar examiner for commercial law chose the final 15 or so questions given during the bar exams leaked to the examinees. The real tragedy, however, is that the greater majority of the examinees who probably did not get copies of the leak will have to suffer the consequences of the misdeed of a few. Instead of resting after the last Sunday of the bar exams, they have to find a second wind and be up to another week for the re-take of the commercial law exams.

The Philippine Bar exams is perhaps the most difficult licensure exams in the Philippines, if not in the world. Taken in all Sundays of September every year, the Philippine bar exams covers all 8 fields of law -- political, labor, civil, taxation, commercial, criminal, remedial and legal ethics. Each subject involves thousands of cases and pages of statutes to comprehend and remember. Yet, for all its difficulty, the true test in the bar exams is the stamina to complete the four difficult weeks, the main highlights of which are the four-hour exams in the mornings and three-hour exams in the afternoons of all Sundays of September. Mind you, the exams are all essay type. So apart from the need to have a good analytical mind to comprehend the question, the examinee also needs to have a good command of the English language and a legible penmanship. That's why of the four thousand or so who take the exams every year, only about five hundred pass the same.

When I took the bar exams of 1995, I followed a strict 7:00 am to 12:00 midnight study schedule everyday in September. There was too much material to cover, so I had to ensure that every waking hour mattered. Thus, when I took the bar, I had enough confidence that I would pass it and the only question in my mind was whether I would get high marks. Well, I would say I had decent marks, except for embarrassing grades in political and labor law, all my other six exams were in the line of 8. But true enough, I was stressed by the third week. I found the exams quite fair but the fatigue took its toll on me that I purposedly took a 30 minute nap during the commercial law exams. It was a gamble that paid off. If I had not taken that nap, I would have committed lapses in grammar and analysis and flunked it altogether.

I did not bother myself with so-called "tips", because I had enough control of the material that I was able to predict or have an educated guess on the questions that were given. One funny incident is that of civil law where three days before the exam I was so certain that a question would be asked on alien adoption under the Family Code. I told friends to memorize the circuitous provision on this aspect of civil law and memorized it myself. Before the actual exams, I even went through the text with a classmate and recited the provision verbatim. Thus, when I read the questions during the exams itself and true enough there was that 10 point question on alien adoption, I dove right into it. The trouble was, I got too excited that I got it all mixed up. I think I was able to struggle and got a large part of the question right. But after the exams, I kept on saying, "I knew it all along. But how could I have not gotten all those ten points?"

Thus, I have some misgivings on the decision to nullify the exams. While the incident is truly despicable, I do not think nullifying the commercial law exams is necessary. This is so because the rightness or wrongness of the answers to the questions are not really the object of the exams, but the manner by which the answers were given by the examinees. In other words, examinees with poor English and poor penmanship are bound to flunk even if they got copies of the exams way ahead of the others. If the questions were the matching type exams, then a leakage would definitely call for a retake. But the bar exams is essay type. Thus, even if the examinee gets the right answer for a question, he still needs to defend and explain his answer. The explanation is the real point maker. As I said earlier, a good review of the material will make it possible for the examinee to actually predict the questions -- in spite of the expanse of the coverage. But what matters is the manner of answering, leaks or no leaks. The final word, however, is out. The Supreme Court has made a decision and all the examinees can do now is take a deep breathe and pray that there is enough energy to go for another week.

UPDATE: September 30, 2003

The Supreme Court reconsidered and ordered the cancellation of the mercantile law exams. Instead, the 15% allotted for the exams will be distributed evenly to the other subjects. See full story here.

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