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Analysis of fourth AIBE question paper

Analysis of fourth AIBE question paper

Bar & Bench

The fourth Bar Exam question paper is an interesting specimen. I have been closely following the examination papers being set since the first All India Bar Exam (AIBE) held in 2010 as one of the founders and a strategist at BarHacker. The latest paper is certainly a few notches below the previous papers in several ways. Particularly in the light of the last AIBE paper, which was a major improvement over the first two papers in terms of academic quality, the latest paper looks like a serious lowering of standards.

The fourth Bar Exam question paper is an interesting specimen. I have been closely following the examination papers being set since the first All India Bar Exam (AIBE) held in 2010 as one of the founders and a strategist at BarHacker. The latest paper is certainly a few notches below the previous papers in several ways. Particularly in the light of the last AIBE paper, which was a major improvement over the first two papers in terms of academic quality, the latest paper looks like a serious lowering of standards.

I shall explain why I think the standard has not been maintained with examples from the paper itself. However, before that, let me highlight some recent developments with respect to AIBE:

1. The syllabus has been changed seven days before the exam. From 20 subjects, the syllabus was reduced to 15 subjects. Incidentally, the Bar Exam Rules notified on the Law Ministry’s website stipulates that the syllabus for the AIBE should be notified 3 months before the exam.

2. Unlike 3 previous exams, no study material was provided for AIBE-4. The duration of the exam was brought down by 30 minutes just 7 days before the exam.

3. Question pattern has been significantly changed – which was obvious from the sample question paper released by BCI 7 days before the exam. Problem based/ application based questions were discarded in favour of general knowledge type and factual knowledge type questions. Instead of 5 options as was the case in previous exams, only 4 options were introduced. Also, the sample paper was full of typing errors, grammatical mistakes and incomprehensible phraseology – you can see a copy of the sample paper here.

4. AIBE remained an open book exam. Students are free to carry any books or any notes as they would like – although there are no recommended set of books for the exam.

5. One needs to score 40 out of the 100 questions to pass the exam. This essentially means that if a person can find the easiest 40 questions in the paper and answer them correctly using the books and bare acts she is carrying in 3 hours time – she would pass the exam.

Keeping the above set of facts in mind, let us look at some of the questions from the paper itself.

While reading these questions, please note the terrible grammar, typographical errors and wrong wording of questions, which indicates lack of language skills of the paper setters apart from lack of proof reading. Almost 60% of the questions in the paper have some grammatical error, punctuation error or simply incorrect English. In many cases questions have ambiguous or incomprehensible answer options. The evident lack of care in preparing the question paper is appalling.

Let’s see some of the questions.

Section based questions

A very large number of questions were based on specific sections of a statute. There was no need for conceptual understanding or knowledge of law to answer these questions. All one needed to correctly answer these questions was to open the section mentioned in the question itself and read. Lets look at some examples:

Question no. 42 – Power of disciplinary committee under the Advocate Act (sic) is provided under:

1. Section 42

2. Section 53

3. Section 40

4. Section 36

To answer this question, one just needs to open the Advocates Act (not Advocate Act as repeatedly mentioned in the exam paper) and turn to these sections to see which one has a heading stating “Power of Disciplinary Committee”.

Question no. 46 – Section 10 subsection (i) (sic) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act talks about

1. Power of arbitration

2. Number of arbitrations (sic)

3. Capacity of Arbitrations (sic)

4. None of the above

Did BCI mean number of arbitrators and capacity of arbitrators? That is only matter of speculation and curiosity as to who was asked to prepare this question. Answering this question, however, depends simply on locating Section 10 of the relevant statute from the bare act, if not for the confusion created by spelling mistakes that smell of tremendous negligence in paper setting.

Question no. 76 – The term “Lock-out” under the Industrial Disputes Act defined in: (sic)

1. Section 2(l)

2. Section 2 (0) (sic)

3. Section 3 (l)

4. Section 3 (M) (sic)

Again, this question needs one to be able to look up a definition from the bare act. It would have been fine if there were few questions like this, but it seems that majority of the questions in the paper belong to this category.

See one more:

Question no. 49 – Principle of Res-sub Judice (sic) is provided in

1. Section 10 of CPC

2. Section 11 of CPC

3. Section 13 of CPC

4. Section 14 of CPC

The paper is full of questions that refer to a section number in a bare act and requires the examinee to just open the bare act, see the section and identify what that particular section deals with to correctly answer the question. According to my count, there are37 such questions in the paper. One needs to score only 40 to pass this exam.

Learn to open a bare act and find a section – that is all. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t study any law ever – if you knew how to flip through a bare act and identify section numbers and comprehend what is written there, you could answer these questions correctly and thus, pass the bar exam. No application based questions, no questions to test your theoretical understanding of legal concepts – even if there were a few difficult questions, you could simply ignore them and still pass. You just need to know how to flip through bare acts. That is the minimum standard for lawyers in India BCI seems to be setting through the bar exam.

Questions which may be dismissed as jokes:

The term Minimum Wages has been described in:

a. The Trade Union Act

b. The Industrial Disputes Act

c. The Minimum Wage (sic) Act

d. None of the above

This was probably intended to be a trick question for a lazy exam taker. A quick look at the statutes will confirm that the Minimum Wages Act prescribes minimum wages for various occupations (as is obvious from the name of the statute), but ironically it does not define the term minimum wages (although ‘wage’ is defined). The correct answer is Option d – ‘none of the above’. Is this what was expected to be tested in the exam?

Questions with illogical or incorrect answer options:

Question no. 90 – In Torts, in case of Defamation (sic):

a. Intention to defame is not necessary

b. Intention to defame is necessary

c. Both (a) and (b)

d. Either (a) or (b)

At a glance, anyone can tell that c or d are absurd options. Even a person who does not know any tort law can narrow down the choices between a and b – and getting the correct answer by choosing a random option out of those two has equal probability as compared flipping a coin and getting the side you want.

Question no. 58 – Limitation Act is applicable to:

1. Civil suits

2. Criminal cases

3. Both of the following (sic) is correct

4. Civil, all the above (sic)

I wonder who made this question with option c and d, and more importantly – who approved it to be in the AIBE paper.

Questions which were not properly worded and questions which are not understandable due to errors:

Consider the terrible effect of lack of proof reading and perhaps language skills in one of the options of this question:

Question no. 44 – Lex Arbitri Means (sic)

1. Arbitral tribunal sitting in India can apply the buy the Singapore

2. Just Law

3. Arbitrary Law

4. None of these

“Arbitral tribunal sitting in India can apply the buy the Singapore” – what is this supposed to mean? If properly phrased, this was probably intended to be the right option. Imagine how confused a student would have been when they encountered this question.

Question no. 93 – The concept of “Judicial Review” in India is based on:

a. Procedure established by law

b. Due process of law

c. Rule of law

d. International treaties and convention

This question is vague and is capable of accommodating multiple answers – as per Indian constitutional law, the ‘procedure established by law’ must be fair, just and reasonable, which involves judicial review of a legislation. This is component of judicial review is restricted to testing conformity with Article 21 of the Constitution only. Ideally, the power of judicial review (with respect to the entire set of fundamental rights) is derived from Article 13 of the Constitution. If the purpose was to test an understanding of the provisions of the Constitution, this option should also have been provided. From a conceptual perspective, judicial review is also a feature of rule of law. Whatever may have been the intention of the framers while preparing the question paper, it seems the purpose was not successful due to lack of proper language and communication skills.

Year of enactment based questions:

Some questions were just based on the year of enactment of certain statutes. Here are some examples:

Question no. 39 – When was the Advocate (sic) Act introduced?

1. 1962

2. 1959

3. 1961

4. 1966

Question no. 45 – In India the Arbitration & Conciliation Act was enacted in

1. 1992

2. 1993

3. 1994

4. 1996

Question no. 86: The Consumer Protection Act was enacted in:

a. 1985

b. 1886

c. 2005

d. 2008

Question no. 80: The Minimum Wages Act was enacted:

a. 1921

b. 1923

c. 1947

d. 2007

Question no. 78: The Trade Union Act was enacted:

a. 1926

b. 1946

c. 1947

d. 1988

It is a redundancy to ask many such questions (there were many more questions like these) in an open book exam in which students are allowed to carry bare acts. In most cases they can answer such questions in a few seconds by looking at the title of a statute.

Obscure questions without any connection with legal skills:

Some questions were just simply obscure, and one wonders what connections they may have with the ability of an advocate to practice. Here are some examples:

Question no. 91 – The father of which of the leader (sic) has been the Deputy Prime Minister of India?

a. Kumari Mayawati

b. Mrs. Meira Kumar

c. Mrs. Pratibha Singh Devi Patil

d. Mrs. Vasundhara Raje

One cannot help but wonder as to why such a question may appear in a bar exam. See some more questions:

Question no. 70 – Who described Jurisprudence as Lawyer’ Extra  version (sic)?

1. Savigny

2. Salmond

3. Julius Stone

4. Buckland

Question no. 41 – Indian Bar Committee was constituted first time (sic) under the chairmanship of Sir Adward Chamier in the year:

1. 1927

2. 1961

3. 1949

4. 1923

Question no. 43 – Indian council (sic) of Arbitration was established in:

1. 1956

2. 1976

3. 1965

4. 1996

Should Bar Exam takers really be tested on such obscure knowledge and trivia?


1. The sheer number and types of mistakes in the paper indicate that the questions have been prepared by someone (or perhaps multiple persons) with very poor knowledge of English, most probably in extreme hurry.

2. There was no system of screening/ reviewing the questions. There was not even any proof reading of the bar exam paper.

3. The academic standard of the paper is not suitable for a bar exam in my opinion. The standard for being licensed as a lawyer is being set at a very low point. There has been a decline in the standards as compared to the past years test papers. This completely fails the purpose of having a bar exam.

4. It appears that no systematic guideline is provided to the question setters. They have asked some very bizarre questions that have little connection with law practice, and those questions have been approved without scrutiny.

Conclusions from a small experiment

Let me share the results of a small experiment I conducted with the bar exam paper. I am visiting my old hometown currently – where I grew up as a child. I gave the exam paper to two of my old friends – one of them is now an engineer and the other appearing for competitive tests to secure a government job. After explaining to them what are bare acts and how to use them for half an hour, I told them to try the AIBE paper. I gave them a set of bare acts. They started with the paper, but one of the friends got bored halfway through the paper – and randomly marked rest of the questions and left. He scored 49, 21 of his marks came from randomly marked questions. The other friend (the one writing competitive exams) used the bare acts extensively and finished the paper with 20 minutes to spare. He scored 73.

Oh well.

I would encourage the people at the helm of BCI to conduct similar experiments before finalizing bar exam papers.

Suggested reforms

The bar exam in its current form does not seem to serve the lofty goals with which it was introduced. It certainly serves the BCI by adding a huge amount to its coffers every six months, but that is perhaps not the only purpose. It is very important to set a good academic standard for the bar exam to justify its existence in the long term. If you are going to just test one’s ability to find sections numbers in bare acts, why put thousands of students through the trouble of registering and appearing for an exam (which is extremely bureaucratic in nature and usually mismanaged)?

BCI should constitute an expert committee comprising of academics and lawyers of good standing to identify an academic standard and syllabus for the bar exam. This committee should conduct sufficient research and come up with a report on what should be the academic standard of bar exam, and what kind of questions may be asked. They may also prescribe procedures for selecting paper setters for the exam, as well as how the questions being set will be reviewed. It should also elaborate on a syllabus for the bar exam, as the current syllabus is merely a list of subjects without any indication as to the depth or breadth in which each subject should be covered.

It is also important that in future the Bar Exam consists of grammatically correct and legally sound original questions created by paper setters appointed by the Bar Council. They should not copy questions from popular text books for competitive exams as seems to be the case with some of the questions in the AIBE-4 paper. With collection of bar exam fees crossing INR 6,00,00,000, BCI certainly has the resources to ensure high standards as far as the bar exam is concerned.