A Return To The Blogosphere

Not that anyone reads this with regularity, however I thought I’d mark my return as a regulator contributor to the blog this week, now that my finals are over. The last three weeks were filled with constant reading and writing in preparation for law school exams, and (hopefully understandably) the appeal of additional reading and writing on other non-law topics seemed a little ambitious.

On the law school exam topic, I thought I’d spend a moment about how I’d design law school exams, or exams more generally. For law school, GPA is the most important part of the job-getting (I was going to use recruitment initially, but this seems more appropriate) yet despite that I think it doesn’t tell a great deal of information. Even without getting into the argument that being good at school is not necessarily an indicator of future success as a lawyer, I think the value of the exam doesn’t even do what it is supposed to do.* The first year grade** is based strictly off of one curved exam, so a proper exam is really important.

Law school exams should take a page from our STEM friends. Those exams are long, no one does very well (raw schore) and when you have a curved class you want the curve to be spread out as much as possible. An exam where the best student finishes easily risks creating an artificially low ceiling that makes it hard for the students who know the material well to show their material. The easiest way to combat this is to make the exams longer.

I think part of the reason for the increase in time per content is that kids complained how hard exams were, and professors feel bad. Looking at professors who made more than 10 years of exams available I could tell a marked different between the new exams and the pre-2000s one. I think some might argue that a student who feels like he is getting every question incorrect or not doing well on the exam is not going to put his best effort forward has some merit, but ultimately ignores the point of testing. You’re getting evaluated, and it is going to be stressful regardless. Additionally, making the exam longer (instead of “harder” per se) shouldn’t have the same demoralizing effect as other methods of making the test harder, and thus more accurate.

* This is likely purposeful on the school’s part, in order to inflate GPAs as much as possible leading up to recruitment. Another topic I’d like to see addressed is the tightening of curves. At NU, a B+ (the median grade of a curved class) can mean you’re in either top 35% or top 65%, which is quite a swing.
** Recruitment happens at the end of the first year for some reason, so first year grades are really the only one that matters.