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Testing company ExamSoft says processing issue caused delay in bar exam submissions across US

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BUFFALO, N.Y. - Law school graduates sweated their way through the second and final day of their bar exams Wednesday, some relieved to see paper and pencil after running into a technical glitch that kept test takers in several states from uploading the first day's answers from their computers.

The Florida-based software provider ExamSoft Worldwide Inc. said the processing problem created a six-hour backlog that had been cleared by early Wednesday morning. The cause was being investigated, spokesman Kenneth Knotts said.

After spending a full day Tuesday inside the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center writing essays and answering multiple-choice questions on her laptop, Julia Pascuzzo of Pittsburgh spent four hours in her hotel room facing error messages while trying to upload her work.

"I thought it was my computer until I finally logged onto Facebook and saw that my colleagues were having the same problem," the Cornell University graduate said during a break from Wednesday's testing. "I fell asleep and then at 3 in the morning I woke up with this panic attack and I was able to manually upload it."

Knotts said the processing problems did not affect the exam takers' answers. But test takers said it cut into their sleep and the time they had to prepare for day 2.

"It definitely takes away from the relief that you have for finishing — that there still might be more problems," said Will VanDerlinder of Elmira, who tried for two hours to submit the exam.

Knotts said he couldn't say what time the delays began or how many people were affected. The company, which administers bar exams in 43 states, listed 16 states that extended their deadlines for submitting the exams.

"We understand that is a stressful time for bar exam takers, and their experience last night was unacceptable to us," ExamSoft said in a website apology. "We will work very hard to repair the trust they have placed in our care."

John McAlary, executive director of the New York State Board of Law Examiners, said about 90 per cent of the more than 10,000 test takers in his state had been able to upload their results by Wednesday morning. New York extended the deadline from 8:30 p.m. Wednesday until midnight and was prepared to extend it further if necessary, he said.

"It's the most important exam they're taking in their life and any little bump in their view is significant," McAlary said.

"It's a pressure cooker under the best of circumstances and no one wants to have anything enhance the pressure," said Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners. "I know that there will be a lot of investigation following this to see what happened and make sure it never happens again."

Test takers pay $100 to $150 to download the company's application to their laptops, which they bring to test sites. Users are instructed to connect to the Internet and upload the file upon leaving.

With Minnesota's 9 p.m. Tuesday submission deadline looming, Maggie Watson took screenshots of the upload failures and sent copies of fail-to-upload emails to the state bar examiner after repeated tries.

"Once I did that four, five, six times, I thought, 'What's going on?'" said Watson, who graduated from Indiana University-Bloomington and took the exam in St. Paul. The deadline was extended after it passed, she said.

"It seemed a little crazy," said Meredith Schlacter, who graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and flew to Buffalo for the exam. "There's one program that every state uses — they had to have anticipated that thousands of people would be using it at the same time."

Several exam takers said they welcomed the bubble sheets, filled in with pencil, for the other half of the test.

"It's really nice to be able to type your essays. I wouldn't want to have to handwrite them," said VanDerlinder, a University at Buffalo graduate, "but the added stress of a tech failure is not good."

The states extending deadlines were Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia and Rhode Island.

___

Associated Press writers Sarah Rankin in Chicago and Terry Wallace in Dallas contributed to this report.

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