The Bar Exam Tamasha: Review of the August 2013 Bar Exam Paper

The fifth All India Bar Examination was held on 25th August, 2013 and more than 25000 candidates appeared for the exam. Ramanuj Mukherjee along with Aayush Shrivastava have analysed the 2013 Bar Exam paper for Live Law readers.

If you are reading this article then chances are high that you either took the bar exam this year, or maybe you will write it in the future. In case you want to know how the exam evolved so far, please read this article here. In short, All India Bar Examination has a troubled history, and in the last couple of versions the standard of the exam had seriously deteriorated. However, it is widely acknowledged that in India we need a serious and well planned bar exam to stop rapid fall in standards of the legal profession. I wrote about this issue over here. The expectation was not very high even this time – however, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the standard of the questions asked in the paper this time.

The latest bar exam paper was definitely much better compared to the last paper – which was almost farcical. I would even dare to say that the level of the bar exam is inching upwards, which is a good sign, and I hope the forward momentum will be maintained in the future as well. This of course, doesn’t mean that everything was hunky dory with this year’s paper either – given that there has been some preposterous slips and mistakes. However, we can assume that BCI has the good will to work on these issues.

Will it be difficult to pass the exam?

I really don’t think so. If you have a little common sense, it would be difficult to fail this exam. How can I say this?

Remember that this was an open book exam. Students carry bare acts to the exam hall – and any other material they would like. Still, 30 out of the 100 questions just require them to look up specific sections from the bare act. The format of these questions is like this:

Which section in XYZ Act talks about X?


a. Section 10

b. Section 11

c. Section 13

d. Section 20

Now any self respecting law student just needs to look up these sections from the bare act to find the correct answer. What can be easier? Is it fair to ask such questions in an open book exam? I do not think so. Even first year law students should be able to do this. These questions alone will give you 75% of the marks that you need to score to pass the AIBE. After this, you need just 10 more marks from the rest of the 70 questions.

Yes, it is that easy.

Still, within those 70 questions, some are quite decent, and will definitely test one’s knowledge of law or application skills. However, apart from the 30 section based questions, another 19 questions were very easy considering that the exam was open book. That takes the number of very easy questions to 49, while the pass marks is 40 – which is why I hold the view that failing this exam would be very difficult.


If someone would fail this exam, that would be perhaps because they followed a drastically wrong strategy, or did not carry bare acts or did not use them while giving the exam at all, or because they cannot find law from books and bare acts. We cannot say that this is a high standard that BCI is setting for lawyers licensed to practice in India – but it is still something, because record shows that 1 out of 3 students fail the bar exam despite such extremely easy question papers. I would be interested to know how many will fail the bar exam this time – it would certainly reflect on the job that the law colleges are doing to train budding lawyers in India.

The types of questions asked can be divided in the following categories:

1. Section based questions – These were the easiest.

2. Case law based questions – There were more of these this time compared to previous bar exams. Some of these questions were difficult, but mostly easy as one can quickly look up many of these cases from the case indexes attached to text books, which they should have carried.

3. Knowledge based questions – These are the only questions that actually required the examinees to know some law. These were mostly easy or of medium difficulty. One could look up these answers from books as well, but many were so easy that no looking up would be required for students who have paid some attention to their college curriculum.

4. Quote based questions – To the surprise of many students, 6 questions were based on quotes of famous judges or legal luminaries. No questions on Sonia Gandhi were asked unlike last year.

5. Application based questions – one expects a large number of application based questions in an open book exam. Well, not in the bar exam. There were just 5 such questions this year.

Question Type 

The question setters also did not follow the syllabus in a strict manner. The syllabus specifies how many questions will be asked from each subject – but the question paper deviated from this to some extent. You can see the extent of deviation from the following graph:

Question Numbers

In Cr. P.C. , ADR, Law of Contract, Property law, NI Act etc., fewer questions than prescribed in the syllabus have been asked. In case of Limitation Act, IPC, and Family law more questions than originally prescribed were asked in the paper. While this may not affect the students much, but it doesn’t speak well about management of the exam if one cannot even follow a self-prescribed syllabus while setting questions.

The other worrying trend is of course terrible logistics of the bar exam. There are not enough centers.  The BCI earns a lot of money from this exam, and students are made to pay almost INR 2000 for the exam. Still the number of exam centers are handful and a lot students have to travel far to give exams.

This however, is not the only problem. Last year exam had to be cancelled in two exam cities because sufficient question papers were not delivered. Other complaints include terrible infrastructure at many of the exam centers. Lack of light in the hall, absence of electricity and even drinking water has plagued exam takers – though we have only heard about this in form of anecdotal stories from our students, there is no source of reliable data. Bar Council must look into these issues.

However, what is most terrible, unfortunate and demeaning to the legal profession is the rampant copying and cheating which has been reported by a large number of people. For some students, it was a traumatic experience as other students even snatched away their papers for copying – while the invigilators remained silent spectator. One student who would like to remain anonymous told me that in her center in Pune people were shouting at each alother exchanging answers. Other students took away one student’s bare acts and books without her permission, and he had to run around the room trying to recover them from different students – all the while the invigilator did not even bother to ask if something was wrong. One student who wrote the exam at a center in Kolkata said that she thankfully finished the paper in time only because it was very easy – despite all the commotion and disturbance by other examinees.

This mint article here reported about many such instances in the past as well.

We are now forced to ask the BCI why they allow such rampant cheating and mass copying of answers, that too in an open book exam, in the AIBE exam halls? What instruction is given to the invigilators about this?

I wonder if the BCI will take any action with respect to this issue any time soon. If they really see bar exam as a means to improving the quality of legal profession and legal education in India, they must take action on this front.

The fifth All India Bar Examination Question Paper is available for download below.

Ramanuj Mukherjee is an NUJS alumnus and founder of iPleaders, a legal education startup geared towards re-engineering legal education for emerging India. Aayush Shrivastava is a final year law student at National Law University, Delhi.

Image from here.

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  • Maahi says:

    Thanks a lot for this article…and for pointing out those negative points of the BCI. They need to look in to this matter seriously.

  • Debapriya Nag says:

    Can you not publish the question paper of as you did for exam-v

  • Farokh says:

    The review is very accurate and it rightly points out the positive and negative aspects of the BCI. The standard of exam is improving is a good sign also the best part is that the BCI ask very simple questions that are easy and this makes it very difficult to fail as any law student having apt knowledge of common sense and law will easily clear the exam.

  • Nice observation because in courts cases also the people who do daily work knows that why he carry the Supreme courts cases list or High Courts cases list not possible to remember the person and human being can’t be call as machine.

  • pritam says:

    helpful article

  • S. E. Inbakumar says:

    Brilliant review!
    It’s high time the office bearers of BCI should aware that there was an undertaking given to the Apex Court in the year 2009 by the Solicitor General,
    ‘The Bar Examinations shall be conducted by a specially constituted independent body, consisting of experts of various disciplines of national stature’.
    In this disobedience and controversial issue, is the power of the courts ready to punish for their contempt?