Ed. note: Please welcome Above the Law’s guest conversationalist, Zach Abramowitz, of blogcasting platform ReplyAll. You can see some of his other conversations and musings here.
Spring exams are right around the corner, and for most law students, that probably means trying to figure out what went wrong first semester and how to do better this time around. Unless you’re one of the fortunate few who got all As your first semester, hopefully this conversation will give you a better road map for the upcoming exams, or at the very least, make you feel a little better about yourself.
Whenever we talk about law school grading around here, it usually involves a law professor being incredibly lazy when it comes time to perform his or her most important function regarding a student’s likely job prospects. Or it involves a law school trying to arbitrarily inflate its grades in a desperate attempt to enhance its employment stats.
Sadly, these stories don’t reflect any effort on the part of legal academia to actually come up with a grading system that is fundamentally fair and useful to the students who rely on it. That law school grades are somewhat arbitrary is just a feature of the system that we all kind of accept, even as we know that employers place significant weight on law school grades when handing out scarce legal jobs.
Given all that, I wanted to take some time on a Friday afternoon to consider the proposals of one law professor who has actually thought through some modest ways to make grading exams something less of a random crapshoot…
I’ve repeatedly said that law school faculty members need to do a better job of taking exams as seriously as their students. Every semester, we have a spate of stories about law professors who are too lazy to write novel exams for their students. And then, weeks later, we have to start doing stories about professors who are too lazy to grade their exams in a timely manner.
And you’ll note that I don’t think we’ve done a story on a law school giving anybody a refund because it couldn’t get its act together to provide deliverables to students.
Well, one law school seems to be willing to hold their faculty to a standard of basic competence. And they’re doing it the only way that it can be done. The school is willing to punish faculty — publicly — for late submission of grades….
We get it, law students: the curve sucks. Because the law school curve affects important things like class rank, law review eligibility, and employment opportunities, it can make or break your life. And in a world where the legal market is still recovering from circling the drain, your grades mean more than they ever did in the past.
While the curve reflects some amount of fairness for larger classes, what happens to the students in smaller classes? You’d think that if everyone in a seminar class kicked ass on the final, the school would allow the professor some leeway with the mandatory curve. That seems like it would be fair, right? It’s a load of bull if the school refuses to step away from the curve in this kind of a situation.
And speaking of bull, apparently if you mess with one in Texas, you’ll get the horns (or at least be called a crybaby). A student at the University of Texas School of Law is trying — albeit unsuccessfully — to fight the powers that be….
Ed. note: This is a guest post by Anonymous Law Professor (“ALP”), who may be writing occasionally for these pages. Given how stressed-out law students are right now — as reflected in, among other things, their exam-time tweets — we asked ALP to offer some advice on the dreaded law school exam, from the professorial perspective.
Do professors really care about drafting and grading exams?
I have yet to encounter a law professor with a flippant attitude toward grading (not that there aren’t some out there.) We want to get it right. Generally, we take pride in creating fair exams. In law schools with curves, a good exam will be a hard exam. A well-constructed exam results in a distribution of competence. I will throw questions into my exams that anyone with a pulse and writing instrument should get right. If someone routinely misses those questions, it’s clear where they fall on the curve. On the best exams, occasionally a student will spot a relevant ambiguity that even I didn’t see when I created the test. To me, that’s creditworthy.
So, yes, we care. But that doesn’t mean we like giving and grading exams.
I think my colleagues at schools that don’t give letter grades may have a different approach. They have it somewhat easier….
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