Hardest exam in the world? The back-breaking road to passing the bar

April 26, 2018 - 6:02 PM

The results are in for last year’s bar exams, and with another batch of new lawyers come new stories about the long and hard journey to making the Roll of Attorneys.

From the previous year’s surprising 59 percent, the passing rate for the recent bar exam dropped to 25.5 percent, with 3,747 out of 6,344 examinees making the cut.

But for those now scheduled to take the lawyer’s oath on June 1, simply making it through the gauntlet that is the bar exam is enough cause for celebration.

Mark John Simondo of University of St. La Salle in Bacolod placed first with a remarkable 91.05 percent, the highest score in more than a decade. The last person to break the 90 percent mark was Arlene Maneja of the University of Santo Tomas, who placed first with 92.90 percent in the 2002 exam.

A wave of congratulations has poured in for the newest addition to the celebrated list of bar first-placers.

For bar passers, surviving the extreme duress one is placed under during bar review is what matters.

One couple, both graduates of the De La Salle University College of Law, related how they put some distance in their relationship to help each other reach their mutual dream of passing the bar.

Looking back at her preparation, Michelle Vale Cruz of the newest batch of La Sallian lawyers spoke about the first year of law school as the start of bar review.

Another new attorney, an alumna of San Beda College of Law, tearfully offered her triumph to the loved ones who supported her throughout her preparation for the bar.

Not even the best had it easy

Even for the cream of the crop, passing the bar is a feat in itself, and making the top ten possibly a miracle.

2014 first-placer Irene Mae Alcobilla upon passing related how she simply dreamed of passing the bar and never expecting to land in the top ten.

“I just wanted to be a Bedan lawyer, to pass the Bar and be called an attorney,” said Alcobilla, also a graduate of San Beda, in an interview in 2014.

Alcobilla related how she would lose sleep on the nights before each exam, held on the four Sundays of October that year. She finished with a score of 85.5%. She calls her having topped the bar “a miracle.”

Another topnotcher from the decade attests to the bar exam’s sheer difficulty.

2012 first placer Ignatius Michael Ingles of the Ateneo de Manila Law School related in an interview that year how he was surprised when found out that he had topped the bar, having found the exams “really, very, tough.”

He talked about having to answer a 100-item multiple choice question portion in remedial law before going on to the essay answer portion of the subject.

The terror of bar exams

Lawyer and law professor Oscar Franklin Tan, who took his Master of Laws degree at the prestigious Harvard Law School, shared his epiphanies upon returning to the Philippines.

A  graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law, Tan on his column titled “Why bar exams ruin legal education” published on the Inquirer criticized the Philippines’ fixation with topping the bar.

List of 2017 bar topnotchers

He related how bewildered Americans were that Filipinos considered topping the bar an achievement and related an instance where he witnessed a partner at an international law firm throw away a resume belonging to a topnotcher from the Philippines.

He claimed that Philippine law schools’ fixation with producing topnotchers and attaining the highest passing rate to have “reduced law school to soulless memory games.”

Terrifying as bar review stories from our country may be, the Philippines is not the only country that puts its aspiring lawyers through the gauntlet.

Korea in 2017 held its last traditional written bar examination, where only 55 examinees passed its selective final stage, an oral interview.

The decision to abolish its traditional bar exam came after much public outcry alleging that law schools in Korea were only for the privileged, citing their exorbitant tuition fees. — Video by Erwin Cagadas; Artwork by Uela Badayos