What would it be like it Elmo wrote your law school exams?

I was starting to wonder if we might get through all of finals period without a major exam screw-up. Imagine the competence.

Don’t worry, we didn’t make it. And as Ned Ryerson might say, this first testing mishap of the season is a doozy. It’s one thing for a professor to blast his own exam by lazily reusing a question set from a prior exam. But this guy put the entire answer in with the testing materials given to his students.

That’s one way of making finals easier….

Things went bad during Professor Jeff Sovern’s Civil Procedure class at St. John’s School of Law. Tipsters report that Professor Sovern’s exam, worth 50 percent of the grade, included the answer key with the fact pattern. Not surprisingly, students are flipping out.

Tipsters add that the proctors — those bright shining lights of common sense and intellectual creativity — told students that the model essay answer was supposed to be in the exam. I wish I could watch like a Jeopardy match between exam proctors and board of elections workers. Talk about two groups of people who get more confused if you give them more information.

Putting the answers in the exam is a pre-school mistake. Which is funny because Professor Sovern has been in our pages before, talking about how he treats law students like preschoolers. Here’s his quote from our archives:

Though it is not flattering to law students to compare them with preschoolers, I thought that we could use the same basic idea of watching when law students tuned out to make law teaching more effective.

That’s Sovern explaining how he uses similar methods to those used by producers on Sesame Street.

Here’s how the St. John’s administration explained the mistake to the students:

The error came about as follows. When Professor Sovern created the exam, he also asked his secretary to type up the model answer to the essay, which he planned to distribute to students who later asked to go over their exams. At some point in the exam preparation process — it is unclear when — the model answer became included as an attachment to the exam. Multiple individuals failed to recognize that the model answer was part of the exam. I am personally investigating how this happened and will work with all who were involved to develop better checks in our system to make sure that this type of error does not recur.

Elmo likes to throw his secretary under the bus.

You can read the full administrative memo on the next page. The upshot is that St. John’s students will have the option to have their whole grade based on the multiple choice section at the beginning of the exam, or they can elect to re-take the essay portion in a 90-minute retest this Friday.

I’d go with the retest. You already know exactly what the professor wants you to say, you just have to apply it to a slightly different set of facts. That should be pretty easy. Take the yards and replay first down.

Good luck, St. John’s law students. Happy holidays.


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