February 01, 2006
a professor's take on grades
If you are law student, or know a law student, you are familiar with the "staircase theory"--professors assign a grade to each step on a staircase, throw their set of exams down the stairs, and whatever step your exam lands on determines your grade.
That's perhaps an extreme theory to explain the seeming arbitrariness of law school grades. Without a doubt, though, many, if not most, law students have trouble correlating how they feel they did on a given exam to the grade they received for that class.
But Professor Froomkin presents an alternate theory for the gap between how you feel and how you do:
My experience was that on the rare occasions when I thought I did great, I didn't do so great. And frequently, when I thought I did badly, I did very well. I came to believe that on time-limited exams, if you were able to put down everything you knew, which tended to cause a happy feeling, it was usually a sign you didn't know enough. On the other hand, if you could think of 20 more things you coulda shoulda said, which tended to create a bad feeling, it was a sign you knew the subject pretty well.
Yes, the facts you describe relating to your own experience may be consistent with the "arbitrariness" theory you offer, but they are also consistent with an "unreliable subjectivity" theory that I think I experienced. And, for that matter, in classes with curves they are also consistent with a "Well or badly as I did, it was worse (or better) than the next guy" theory. Or maybe you knew some subjects better than others?
Give it a read. Something to think about, at least.
November 16, 2005
just in time for exams
Are you ready for exams?
I myself am preparing for my first set of exams, so I don't know how helpful this will be, but this little bit sounds terrific:
I teach them the exam mantra: "the issue is...the rule is....here we have....therefore..., next." I think I hear students muttering this during exam week, or I'd like to think that's what they are saying as they pass me in the hall....
April 10, 2005
Is Grading Really Blind?As spring finals approach, there's no better time for a huge discussion law school exam grading. The conversation features lots of contributions from law students, former law students and professors at major schools. Some portion of it verges on mean-spirited griping, but you'll also find some good thoughts to chew on as you prepare for exams if you sift through the rest.
February 18, 2005
Outrageous Things Professors SayTony of Parenthetical Statement recently posted a list of comments he and his classmates received on their contracts exams, which Tony describes as “some of the most blunt, outrageous and snarky comments ever to grace a bluebook.” If you're planning to go to law school, you might want to read these comments and the discussion that follows them where Tony's readers (including some law professors) exchange opinions on whether these comments are typical or helpful. If you're a 1L or beyond, the comments might show you that you're not alone in receiving crazy comments or in thinking that professors can be, um, a bit lacking in empathy.
January 26, 2005
Grade Angst: Reducing RandomnessProfessor Yin at The Yin Blog offers some advice to those who are less than thrilled with their grades: Go visit the professor so you can make sure you don't repeat any of the same mistakes next time. Hmm. Might be worth a try.
January 22, 2005
Law School Exams: TNTDOLSEOn Notes from the (Legal) Underground a law professor shares “six things not to do on law school exams (hereafter 'TNTDOLSE').” On the flip side (what to do on law school exams), Evan Schaeffer also links to a post he wrote last fall on Issue-Spotting on law school exams. It covers a definition of issue-spotting and why it's important, how to study to prepare for issue-spotters, and knowing what to do once you've spotted the issues. Good stuff to tuck away until April or May when finals roll around again...
December 17, 2004
Exam Horror StoriesCrime & Federalism is collecting Exam Horror Stories. Some of them are great, but they also might be instructive. For example, the moral of C&E's own story is that you should never leave an exam early because that one last skim through the question might be when you notice the issue you missed. If you don't want to look for morals in these stories, perhaps they'll at least make you feel better knowing others have been through exam horrors, too.
December 14, 2004
We Can't All FailWaiting for the Punchline offers a little finals anxiety control tip:
When I start panicking that I'm going to fail an exam, I look around the room and pick out 10 people who I know are dumber than me or will do worse on the exam. Then I figure, worst case scenario, there's no way the professor would fail more than 10 people in the class, so I'm safe. It really boosts morale, you should try it sometime.[link via Sapere Aude]
December 13, 2004
First Rule Of Exam ClubMatt Schuh has just finished his first semester of law school and he has a tip for current law students and law students to be: “quit talking about exams after they're over.” [link via Notes from the (Legal) Underground]
December 11, 2004
More Study and Exam TipsSapre Aude is living up to its promise of being generous with the study and exam tips this week. It didn't quite manage one per day, but hey, it's good to aim high. The tips were: this picture to perfectly capture the feeling of finals. Hats off to Sapere Aude generally for being a great resource for law students everywhere, and particularly for the students at Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis. I don't see evidence that Sapere Aude is related to the student government at IU, but law school student governments would still do well to take a hint from Sapere Aude and put up their own blawgs for both the entertainment and edification of their peers. And, hey, they can host those student blawgs at blawgcoop, so it would be an easy thing to do...
December 08, 2004
How Professors Might Write FinalsAnonymous Law Professor, a new blawgger who claims to be a fictional version of just what the name implies, has written a candid description of how a law professor writes and grades exams. Fascinating, really. You might find some insights that will help you prepare for your own finals this season. Or you might just be horrified or amused. Some beautiful bits to warm the cockles of your heart:
I have some favorites cases that I use over and over again, mainly because they consistently fool significant numbers of first years. . . . I like to have at least one of the cases based entirely on an issue that was only raised in the notes of the case book. Maybe 40% of the students typically have no idea what I am trying to get them to say with respect to this case. I know students do not read the notes, and because of this the students really struggle with this case/issue. For missing this case/issue, the best a student can typically do is a “C” or its equivalent.Oh, and this should cheer you up as well:
By integrating facts from four cases into one or two essays, I have found that about 30% of the class fails to finish the exam. This is by design. The more students who do not finish, or that fall for my contrived trickery, the easier it is for me to grade (more on grading later--probably as I am grading this semester's exams).Yeah! That's what we love to hear! The comments on the post are lively, and include a claim that the Anonymous Law Professor is full of malarcky. In fact, another law professor makes that claim. And maybe the whole thing is in jest. Maybe. It says it's by a fictional law professor, right? So just put it out of your head and get back to studying, why don't you? UPDATE: Just noticed Professor Althouse also argues that AnonLawProf is not a law professor, but a law student satirizing a law professor. Just to add grist to the mill, I'll point out that law professors might generally have a certain interest in claiming that AnonLawProf is a fake. That doesn't mean AnonLawProf is legit, it's just a point to consider, because you really need more distractions from studying, don't you?
December 07, 2004
Outlines and Exam TipIt may be too late for most at this point, but if you're still looking for outlines for your classes, Sapere Aude is starting an outline bank for all the kiddies at Indiana University School of Law in Indy. That blog's Lucas Sayre suggests other sources for law school outlines include the Internet Legal Research Group and the 4LawSchool Outline Bank. Of course, the best resource for outlines is to ask a friend at your own school who has previously taken the class for which you need the outline, but you knew that, right? Sapere Aude's Kelly Scanlan also offers an exam tip: You already know the answer.
The concept is this: each semester there is only a finite number of subjects around which your professor can craft a test question. And of course, you already know what those subjects are. Check out your syllabus or the table of contents of your casebook. Make a list of possible exam topics and realize that there are less than you may think. Take cues from what topics your prof spent the most time on in class, what topics are most important overall, and what topics appear in old exams (if available) to determine which ones are most likely to be covered this time around.Good stuff, and there's more where that came from, with more on the way—Kelly promises a tip a day for the rest of the week, so keep checking in.
December 06, 2004
Message to 1Ls: It Gets BetterJeremy Blachman offers some unsolicited advice for 1Ls heading into their first round of finals:
Right now is the hardest point, because there's all of this material and no way of knowing where you stand. If you're just worried that you can't do this for three years, that you can't handle it -- you're mere weeks from the end of the semester, and, really, truly, honestly -- the spring is so much better, and 2L and 3L are nothing. No matter how you're feeling now, it's not like that forever.Meanwhile, Stay of Execution has kindly linked up her past advice on the topic of finals, including:
- Study Tips
- One More Tip, which is basically, finish your take-home exams before you get bombed
- It's Normal to be freaked about 1L exams
- Happy Exam Time!, which suggests you may look back on this time with something akin to fondness. Crazy, eh?
November 26, 2004
Request: Finals PrepsOne-L “uhoh” writes:
Ok, so now I'm hopelessly behind in the reading. And when viewed in the cold light of day, after a night of purported inspiration, my outlines have revealed themselves to be the product of a very disturbed and caffine-crazed mind. Given that it's probably too late in the semester to actually learn the law, on what skills should I focus in order to mitigate the damage?And given that it may be too late for advice at this point, can anyone offer any concise finals prep tips for all of us heading into finals in the next few weeks? If you could pass on one single secret of your success, what would it be? (Feel free to offer more than one, but since we're all pressed for time...) UPDATE: This should probably be in the “what not to do to prepare for finals” file, but Jeremy Blachman offers a few of the best things you can do when you're supposed to be studying but would just prefer not.
September 10, 2004
Outline for Issue-SpottingEvan Schaeffer -- Illinois attorney and friend to law students everywhere -- offers a description of his method of outlining and studying so as to emphasize issue-spotting, "a key component of exam-taking that was overlooked by many of my fellow students."
September 02, 2004
Spelling Counts!Sure, finals are still far off in the distance, but BitingTongue has some easy to follow advice for the meantime (know how to spell your professor's names).
August 13, 2004
Coping With Exam Panic
First year law students are often very concerned about exams (I certainly was); practicing attorney Scheherazade of Stay of Execution says don't worry, it's normal. Just something to keep in mind if you start to freak out in a few months around finals time.