Matthew's Foray into Blogging

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Law school grading

Are the grades “assigned” on law school exams arbitrary and meaningless? I completed law school about six months ago. I feel that I received a fabulous education. However, I found the exams to be a most unpleasant experience. Law school exams are graded on a curve, that is, each student’s grade is relative to his or her performance as compared to other students. The grades in law school do not reflect the content mastered by students. A student is expected to demonstrate, in three hours on a cheesy fact pattern devised by the professor, the knowledge the student acquired in the preceding fourteen weeks.

When professors have numerous essay exams to grade – sixty-plus, perhaps – it would be quite a feat to pay careful attention to each answer and to grade it objectively in relation to the other fifty-nine students’ exams.

There is the objective answer format, also. This is completely contrary to the student’s goal on a law school exam – to demonstrate knowledge. How can one exhibit what he or she has learned over the course of fourteen weeks if the only answer alternatives are (A), (B), (C), or (D)? Forget about explaining your reasoning.

If law school exams are modeled after bar exams, and are intended to prepare students for essay and multiple-choice format exams, why is there only one exam administered per semester in each law school course? Would not multiple and more frequent exams better provide students with practice for the bar exam?

What is to be made of IRAC? Does the IRAC method of answering law school essay questions, whereby the examinee spots the Issue, states the Rule, performs Analysis, and states a Conclusion, have any value? Has a professor ever advocated this method of answering an essay question? Some professors state that they do not care what method students use to answer essay questions. What, then does the professor want?

What concerns professors on law school exams leads to another issue. Professors state that they do not care how artfully crafted an exam answer is. They do not consider grammar, spelling, or eloquence in grading exams. This stands in contravention with the reality of the practice of law, as I understand it to be. In the real world, the ability of lawyers to communicate effectively is of utmost importance. Lawyers frequently submit work for others - clients, senior attorneys, judges - to review. The ability to persuade, to inform, or not to create the impression that one is semi-literate, is of utmost importance to the lawyer.

Thus, the format of grading in law school is completely subjective and arbitrary. Conceivably, grading on a curve encourages competition, rather than cooperation, among students. In Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman advocates cooperation, as it benefits all individuals more than does competition. In my experience, however, there was not cutthroat competition among law school students. Rather, students were generally willing to assist one another in achieving the common goal of making it through law school. One is not in competition with one’s fellow students, but with the professors and the grading system.


  • I taught college for years (not law, thank goodness!), and that sounds like the worst grading system.

    If you could work anywhere (not location, but type of job), as a lawyer, what would you do, Matthew?

    By Anonymous Crystal's Mom, at 7:11 PM, June 26, 2005  

  • Yes, grading on a curve is not too fabulous. An excellent undergraduate professor explained to me that the curve system of grading was developed for the benefit of weak professors.

    Actually, I still do not know what I want to be when I grow up. I am open to any number of practice fields and any number of occupations. If you think that is not very very helpful, that is probably what my mentors thought when they set about to help me narrow my focus. Can you offer any advice?

    By Blogger Matthew, at 7:22 PM, June 26, 2005  

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