Myth of arbitrary grading.

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BeenDidThat
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby BeenDidThat » Wed Feb 23, 2011 12:29 am

I can't tell because I've never seen another student's exam. Observational data being necessary for proper analysis FTW (or TL, in this case)!

FiveSermon
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby FiveSermon » Wed Feb 23, 2011 12:51 am

Anytime you have writing graded it's going to be arbitrary. This isn't math.

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BruceWayne
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby BruceWayne » Wed Feb 23, 2011 1:04 am

FiveSermon wrote:Anytime you have writing graded it's going to be arbitrary. This isn't math.


I'm shocked it took someone this long to bring this up. We're graded on essay exams. Meaning as long as you don't write something downright contrary to what the law is (which most people at the sort of schools we're talking about just aren't going to do) the professor really can't help but base a large portion of your grade on subjective measures i.e writing ability. It's funny as much as TLS stresses the LSAT, writing ability is by far the most important skill for doing well on these things. On the LSAT there is a right or wrong answer and it's clear cut; not so much on a law exam.

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jack duluoz
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby jack duluoz » Wed Feb 23, 2011 1:14 am

I think you can study really hard and easily put yourself above the median grade. But, when a professor only gives out 8 As and 15 essays are damn good, then someone is getting the shaft.

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prezidentv8
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby prezidentv8 » Wed Feb 23, 2011 1:16 am

Well, subjectively (not that what I'm saying represents an objective truth or anything) I've experienced law grading as not quite random, but decently arbitrary and a lot silly.

My experience:

  • Grades are all over the map, from top of the curve to the bottom couple percent
  • Probably decently into the top half of the class anyway
  • Best grade was in a 1L class (i.e., low curve and people treating school like it's srs bsns) where I literally did not know what one of the three questions was asking me to talk about
  • Close to my worst grade was in a class without an exam, and where participation was half of the grade
  • If I think I did well, I'm right on the median
  • If I think I did badly, I either did terribly, or did awesomely
  • Classes that do not permit computers or with short time limits for finals = pain for my GPA
  • Classes that get into policy, allow computers, and give long amounts of time for finals = usually helpful to GPA

Now, this is not to say that grading is totally random or arbitrary (Although, my conversations with my professors after looking at my exams seem to indicate that, to a degree, it is). And there is at least a minimum level of knowledge and writing ability required to score at a given level. But lots of people have that requisite ability in a given school. And, truth be told, I at least (personally, anyway) have no idea what the living malarkey is going on on most exams, and so for me it almost might as well be random. And if a decent proportion of the class is like me and doesn't really know the rules of the game that we're playing or how to keep score, then frankly it isn't that far from random or arbitrary in a subjective sense for a whole lot of people, because it essentially becomes educated guesswork for a large chunk of the middle of a class of people with very similar skills.

TLDR: Everybody knows the BLL and how to generally apply it. Not everyone knows how to give an individual professor what they want. Subjective feelings of randomness result.

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Mroberts3
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby Mroberts3 » Wed Feb 23, 2011 1:18 am

mbusch22 wrote:
Veyron wrote:
bk1 wrote:When I hear people say that grades are arbitrary, I get the feeling that they mean "amount of time put in does not necessarily correlate with grades received" not that grades are truly arbitrary.

ETA: I am a 0L.


Wow, a credited response from a 0L!


No offense to the posting 0Ls, but when I was a 0L i don't think i had the audacity to post in forums for law students, more or less post my opinion.... but I'm seeing more and more of it. It's almost as annoying as undergrads using our library. I never would have done that. (I can tell you're an undergrad, i can see your sociology and psychology books with large pictures in them. Stop taking the good tables and talking about how wasted you were on thursday)


To be fair, my contracts textbook had some big pictures in it and I'm pretty routinely wasted on Thrusday :)

imchuckbass58
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby imchuckbass58 » Wed Feb 23, 2011 1:21 am

I think one of the things people miss is that everyone is graded on a curve. So it doesn't matter if you thought the exam was hard and you bombed one of the questions. If everyone else thought the exam was harder and bombed two of the questions, you get an A. Same thing if you thought the exam was easy - everyone else probably did too, and you will have to really go the extra mile to get a good grade.

This is pretty straightforward, but I think even though they know it, people have a tendency to think that because they did well on a test they thought they bombed (or vice versa), grading must be arbitrary.

If you get a chance to see raw scores, I think this feeling is lessened. I thought I bombed on exam. Turns out I did - picked up only about 1/2 of the points. Luckily most people picked up less.

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prezidentv8
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby prezidentv8 » Wed Feb 23, 2011 1:28 am

imchuckbass58 wrote:I think one of the things people miss is that everyone is graded on a curve. So it doesn't matter if you thought the exam was hard and you bombed one of the questions. If everyone else thought the exam was harder and bombed two of the questions, you get an A. Same thing if you thought the exam was easy - everyone else probably did too, and you will have to really go the extra mile to get a good grade.

This is pretty straightforward, but I think even though they know it, people have a tendency to think that because they did well on a test they thought they bombed (or vice versa), grading must be arbitrary.

If you get a chance to see raw scores, I think this feeling is lessened. I thought I bombed on exam. Turns out I did - picked up only about 1/2 of the points. Luckily most people picked up less.


I think you're credited, in the sense that law school grading is in reality only meant to reflect where you fell in a mass of people, and not some objective standard of knowledge or capability, but I still felt the need to point out a particular use of language and another way that the curve can bring luck into the equation.

missinglink
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby missinglink » Wed Feb 23, 2011 1:29 am

imchuckbass58 wrote:I think one of the things people miss is that everyone is graded on a curve. So it doesn't matter if you thought the exam was hard and you bombed one of the questions. If everyone else thought the exam was harder and bombed two of the questions, you get an A. Same thing if you thought the exam was easy - everyone else probably did too, and you will have to really go the extra mile to get a good grade.

This is pretty straightforward, but I think even though they know it, people have a tendency to think that because they did well on a test they thought they bombed (or vice versa), grading must be arbitrary.

If you get a chance to see raw scores, I think this feeling is lessened. I thought I bombed on exam. Turns out I did - picked up only about 1/2 of the points. Luckily most people picked up less.

That feels right from my perspective. I pretty much correctly guessed my relative performance on all of my exams. What I was was off on were how those relative scores compared to the rest of my class.

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thesealocust
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby thesealocust » Wed Feb 23, 2011 1:30 am

BruceWayne wrote:
FiveSermon wrote:Anytime you have writing graded it's going to be arbitrary. This isn't math.


I'm shocked it took someone this long to bring this up. We're graded on essay exams. Meaning as long as you don't write something downright contrary to what the law is (which most people at the sort of schools we're talking about just aren't going to do) the professor really can't help but base a large portion of your grade on subjective measures i.e writing ability. It's funny as much as TLS stresses the LSAT, writing ability is by far the most important skill for doing well on these things. On the LSAT there is a right or wrong answer and it's clear cut; not so much on a law exam.


I largely disagree with this. Professors (I'm generalizing, but it's held up in my experience) grade based on points, and the points they assign are based on certain threads of analysis where writing ability doesn't really mean anything. It's not a style contest, and extremely crude prose can still net buckets full of points and top grades.

Somebody with innate writing ability might translate that into effective organization, but law school exam grading is - for the most part - a lot more like grading a math exam than it is assigning a letter grade to an essay in an undergrad paper course.

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bk1
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby bk1 » Wed Feb 23, 2011 2:07 am

fatduck wrote:
mbusch22 wrote:
Veyron wrote:
bk1 wrote:When I hear people say that grades are arbitrary, I get the feeling that they mean "amount of time put in does not necessarily correlate with grades received" not that grades are truly arbitrary.

ETA: I am a 0L.


Wow, a credited response from a 0L!


No offense to the posting 0Ls, but when I was a 0L i don't think i had the audacity to post in forums for law students, more or less post my opinion.... but I'm seeing more and more of it. It's almost as annoying as undergrads using our library. I never would have done that. (I can tell you're an undergrad, i can see your sociology and psychology books with large pictures in them. Stop taking the good tables and talking about how wasted you were on thursday)


i post here by accident a lot because i really only browse via "view active topics" (and i suspect others do the same), but i get what you're saying


This. I added the edit because I realize that this was in the law student forum. This subforum isn't very active so I don't tend to notice when a post is in this subforum as opposed to the others.

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well-hello-there
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby well-hello-there » Wed Feb 23, 2011 3:18 am

thesealocust wrote:
BruceWayne wrote:
FiveSermon wrote:Anytime you have writing graded it's going to be arbitrary. This isn't math.


I'm shocked it took someone this long to bring this up. We're graded on essay exams. Meaning as long as you don't write something downright contrary to what the law is (which most people at the sort of schools we're talking about just aren't going to do) the professor really can't help but base a large portion of your grade on subjective measures i.e writing ability. It's funny as much as TLS stresses the LSAT, writing ability is by far the most important skill for doing well on these things. On the LSAT there is a right or wrong answer and it's clear cut; not so much on a law exam.


I largely disagree with this. Professors (I'm generalizing, but it's held up in my experience) grade based on points, and the points they assign are based on certain threads of analysis

+1
It's not as if the professor is grading everyone's personal statement and pulling grades out of a hat based on how cool each one sounded.

Everyone has to answer the same questions and the professor knows exactly which things should be discussed. no mention of item #1 = no credit, thorough analysis of item #2 = full credit, partial analysis of item #3 = partial credit. The curve mucks it up a bit but it's more like a math exam than a free-write essay in composition 101.

Kobe_Teeth
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby Kobe_Teeth » Wed Feb 23, 2011 9:45 am

Grading is not "completely arbitrary." Anyone arguing that point is plainly wrong.

Grading not being arbitrary at all is plainly wrong as well.

Anecdotal evidence to offer up:

I got solid grades and one bad grade. I met with the prof who gave me a bad grade. He informed me that I missed an average grade by a point and the next step above that was still only 3 or 4 pts away. He then informed that if he graded all the exams over again there would be a low probability that people on the cusp like myself would ALL end up with the same grade.

All in all, the prof is a great teacher, so great that everyone in the class, even the people who barely ever paid attention knew all of the same information going in. It flattened out the curve and made for some screwy grades. I've discussed my grades with very few people, but of the people who did not get straight A's or close to it, their lowest grade came from this same class. Of the kids who had really figured out law school, though, it didn't seem to matter much.

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A'nold
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby A'nold » Wed Feb 23, 2011 3:13 pm

kalvano wrote:I can tell you that there is about 10% luck and 90% figuring out what the professor wants. I did OK, and I can tell you exactly what I messed up on the exams I didn't do as well as I hoped to on.

Arbitrary? Not really. Knowing the law isn't enough, it's being a picky bastard about everything.

The people who think it's arbitrary are the people who spent hours memorizing rules and BLL and wrote that on the test and got a B- and are pissed about it.

+1. I've been arguing w/ posters about this for over a year now.

kublaikahn
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby kublaikahn » Wed Feb 23, 2011 3:47 pm

Kind of a random comment/theory, but thought it may be of use. In B school I TA'd for a couple professors. so this may not apply to law school. FWIW.

The profs would outline the answer to long essays and then when grading, invariably the essays that matched the order of the outline did better. Further, if the writing was solid, out of order essays would get much more credit than poorly written essays that were out of order.

Also, one professor (the dean) liked answers that were outside the box, the other seemed to dock students for taking answers beyond scope. The students that understood this faired better.

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vamedic03
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby vamedic03 » Wed Feb 23, 2011 7:30 pm

BruceWayne wrote:
FiveSermon wrote:Anytime you have writing graded it's going to be arbitrary. This isn't math.


I'm shocked it took someone this long to bring this up. We're graded on essay exams. Meaning as long as you don't write something downright contrary to what the law is (which most people at the sort of schools we're talking about just aren't going to do) the professor really can't help but base a large portion of your grade on subjective measures i.e writing ability. It's funny as much as TLS stresses the LSAT, writing ability is by far the most important skill for doing well on these things. On the LSAT there is a right or wrong answer and it's clear cut; not so much on a law exam.


There are correct and incorrect answers on law school exams. The difference between a law school exam and other exams is that, typically, the answers are in the form of correct or incorrect analyses.

Further, while poor grammar or poor writing ability will have a negative effect, the ability to write very well is not a necessary skill for doing well on exams.

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edcrane
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby edcrane » Wed Feb 23, 2011 11:30 pm

vamedic03 wrote:
There are correct and incorrect answers on law school exams. The difference between a law school exam and other exams is that, typically, the answers are in the form of correct or incorrect analyses.

Further, while poor grammar or poor writing ability will have a negative effect, the ability to write very well is not a necessary skill for doing well on exams.


I agree with this assessment, but I'd go even farther: With respect to exam writing, all that is necessary is the ability to communicate ideas clearly. IMO, this is a much lower bar than "writing well," which typically entails adherence to certain stylistic norms (e.g., avoidance of repetitive structures/phrasing, use of transitions to link together paragraphs). In any event, I agree that the most subjective aspects of writing are unlikely to play a substantial role in grading.

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romothesavior
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby romothesavior » Wed Feb 23, 2011 11:40 pm

bk1 wrote:When I hear people say that grades are arbitrary, I get the feeling that they mean "amount of time put in does not necessarily correlate with grades received" not that grades are truly arbitrary

This.

I don't think it is "arbitrary," because there is some rhyme and reason to it. The best grades (generally) are given because they are the best exams, however the professor defines it. But I can say without any ounce of hesitation that there is almost zero correlation between hard work in any given class and the final grade in any given class, at least once you get above a certain threshold of work. Sure, there will be some lazy people in any class, but once you pass that minimum threshold of hard work, it really becomes anybody's ballgame. I did better than a lot of people who worked twice as hard as me, and there are a lot of people who did less work than I did and did better gradewise. I also think it seems arbitrary when you walk out of an exam feeling like shit and you end up acing it, and vice-versa. It makes you question just what the hell the prof was looking for.

So no, I don't think law grading is arbitrary, but anyone who asserts that grading is a meritocracy or a good way to gauge "lawyering" skills should have their head examined.

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prezidentv8
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby prezidentv8 » Wed Feb 23, 2011 11:57 pm

romothesavior wrote:what the hell the prof was looking for.


This really is the key to any exam. And frankly, I think, the reason behind why my grades vary so much.

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98234872348
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby 98234872348 » Thu Feb 24, 2011 12:16 am

I agree with the fringe grades statements. The difference between a B and A is, typically speaking, going to be significant, but between an A- and B+ substantially less significant.

An observation I have that has not been brought up yet is this: easy exams are more arbitrary. There's just no getting around that. I sincerely wish I went to a school where all professors gave impossibly hard exams, but, alas, some of the exams I have taken have been relatively easy. This makes the curve tighter and grades more arbitrary. Not entirely arbitrary, but the fringe differences are accentuated.

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romothesavior
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby romothesavior » Thu Feb 24, 2011 2:45 am

prezidentv8 wrote:
romothesavior wrote:what the hell the prof was looking for.


This really is the key to any exam. And frankly, I think, the reason behind why my grades vary so much.

No doubt about it.

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JG Hall
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby JG Hall » Thu Feb 24, 2011 4:12 am

the lantern wrote:The only possibly "arbitrary" aspect of grading, IMO, is the fact that good writers will score better than poor writers, all things being equal. I'm not necessarily the best brief writer, but I can kill it on a timed exam that you don't have time to review, edit, etc. Although I only know the grades of a couple of my classmates, I feel like they are pretty accurate for the most part.

not necessarily, esp. in a corporations exam where half the class is LLMs.

LurkerNoMore
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby LurkerNoMore » Thu Feb 24, 2011 8:24 am

ITT: People who got good grades try to convince themselves that they actually mean something and people who got bad grades try to convince themselves that they don't.

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rdcws000
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby rdcws000 » Thu Feb 24, 2011 9:48 am

After one semester, it would seem that grading falls short of arbitrary, at least on the anecdotal evidence I have that none of the people who made the dean's list were surprises to me, and none of the people we have never heard from again (presumably dropped after fail) were surprises either.

Discretionary might be a better word, in that each prof reserves the right to create and work within their own system of grading. I believe that those who do well pay close attention to hints, or outright statements throughout the semester of what the prof is looking for, and how they are likely to grade. In other words, I wrote my Torts exam in a completely different style from my contracts exam based on very specific requirements (definitions and rules) from the torts prof and more traditional law school exam style (Getting to Maybe) from the contracts prof. I received similar satisfactory grades in both courses.

I will say that at least for me, the idea that your feeling of how you did after an exam rarely correlates to your performance, has rung true for me. Some people take this and say grading is arbitrary, but I attribute this more to the curve. In other words, if you think you think you did poorly, you probably did, and it just so happens everyone else did as well, and you came out on top.

Short version: arbitrary: no. Luck: no. Discretionary: yes.

pasteurizedmilk
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Re: Myth of arbitrary grading.

Postby pasteurizedmilk » Thu Feb 24, 2011 9:59 am

At the margins I don't think it's random. IME the same people consistently get the very top grades (A+, model exam, whatever) and the same people consistently get the very worst grades. In the middle there's more randomness/luck built in.

I'd say if you took the 5 exams above a particular cutoff and the 5 exams below a particular cutoff (e.g. 5 lowest A-'s and 5 highest B+s) and the had prof regrade all of them the result would be the same as flipping a coin for each to decide A- or B+.

The takeaway is that you need to do the same things on exams you do in job hunting. It's uncertain in both cases, so all you can do is increase your odds. Use headers, bold key terms that are likely to be on the issue spotter checklist, etc. etc. Make it easy for the Prof to grade and you'll see better results.




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