Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Sunday, July 11, 2010

China's National Judicial Exam from a test-taker's perspective

Reader Richard Li offers a first-hand perspective on the September 2009 administration of the National Judicial Examination. I like the system of posting official answers and then giving consideration to dissenting views submitted by test-takers. Richard notes that there's no evidence that the system actually worked in practice, but it's still a good idea that other bar examiners ought to consider.

Since the Ministry of Justice (“MOJ”) began to open the floodgates to thousands of unqualified lawyers in 2007, the number of registered test takers of National Judicial Examination has taken off and the year of 2009 hit a record high. In 2009, nearly 420,000 people registered, and over 350,000 finally sat for the test. [Note]

Owing to the worldwide economic recession, my month-long study leave was approved without any trouble. In fact, my test preparation began a month earlier. The entire preparation process was extremely frustrating, for there were a host of provisions and principles to memorize. To try to remember important articles of one area such as criminal law is daunting, let alone the entire legal system. It was not until the test preparation that I realized my memory only had limited capacity. When it runs to the maximum, to input every extra piece of information will erase an old piece.

The test has totally four sections and two sections for each day. Section One consists of 100 questions regarding jurisprudence, economic law, international law, and other small terrains of the law. In general, this year's Section One has more questions regarding minor areas of the law than the previous year's test had. As a result, there may be few test takers but are worried about their scores of this section.

Section Two covers criminal law, criminal procedures, administrative law, and administrative procedures. It is widely accepted that this section has been the most vexing one among the four sections for years, not only because of the obscurity of administrative law, but also the depth of criminal law. With respect to criminal law, there is an analogy with the way a question is made. The law shows you how to get to the depth of 80 meters, while the question asks you the depth of 100 meters. Therefore, just because you are able to clearly recall the applicable provisions doesn't mean you can work out the answer. The most efficient way to find the answer is to get acquainted with the schools of the professors who framed those questions.

Section Three comprises civil law, civil procedures, arbitration, and commercial law. In this year's test, this section might be the most reasonable among the four. It is foreseeable that the average score of this section will be the highest compared to other three. However, from my perspective, civil law questions, which accounts for nearly three fifths of this section, were not properly framed. Some were ambiguous and open to different interpretations. This problem will to some extent frustrate the purpose of the test.

Section Four only has essay questions. Timing is a pivotal matter for this section, as you need to write around 5,000 words in order to answer the seven questions properly. Test takers who relied on the test training institutes for information might find themselves depressed, as all of this year's essay questions were quite unexpected.

MOJ released all the test questions as well as the official key within one week after the test date. At the same time, it set up a bulletin board allowing test takers to post their dissenting views on the official answers to each questions and the answers they gave. [Note]  It was provided in MOJ’s No. 85 Announcement in 2009 that officials from MOJ would collect and collate test takers’ dissenting views and their proposed answers, and submit them to a panel of experts for verification before marking the test papers. Answers surviving the verification process were used in the paper marking. [Note] However, in practice, MOJ usually did not publicize the changes to the official key after verification, so the verification process and the final answers remained unknown to the test takers.

Many test takers have been complaining that the National Judicial Examination is a far cry from the professed "practical test". Its drawbacks the critics have pointed out may include but are not limited to the following:

1. The ability to reason is not tested. Instead, questions mainly concern the literal meaning of the rules. If it is allowed to bring in laws and regulations, then almost all the questions are easy to answer. In the real world, lawyers most of the time have the access to legal texts.

2. Too many impractical and unimportant laws are tested in the test. Some provisions may not be quoted by lawyers in their whole life career.

3. Since there are a fair number of errors in the official key every year, the results may not correctly demonstrate test takers’ actual knowledge of the law.

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Anyone interested in how this stacks up to 1933 should read: 俞履德. “国民党政府对司法官选拔和培训.” In 文史资料存稿选编: 政党政府, 12, 466-476. 北京: 中国文史出版社, 2002.

Posted by: Glenn Tiffert | Jul 12, 2010 10:13:24 AM

Sounds about as bad as any US bar exam.

Welcome to our hell, future Chinese lawyers!

Posted by: ah | Jul 13, 2010 11:43:31 AM

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