jbagelboy wrote:I'm not saying professors have no way of distinguishing between a good exam and a bad one. Im saying your grades will not necessarily reflect your confidence/mastery of the material, or how you felt about the class. I'm saying "studying hard" does not correlate to strong grades, as evidenced repeatedly, as in this very thread, and also in my own personal experience. The class I liked best and spent the most time on was my lowest grade, and the class I disliked and somewhat dismissed, I aced. It's far from myth. You cannot predict how you will do: it is arbitrary.
Of course, there are mistakes one can make on an exam that definitely hurt you, and ways yo improve performance by avoiding these errors. It's an exaggeration to say profs just blindly write random grades on random essays. When you get a B, obviously you did something differently from the kid who got an A. But at top schools where nearly everyone is putting in tremendous effort, you cant truly know or plan for where you will place in the class ex ante, you can only rationalize performance postmortem.
I think we agree mostly. I think that the "grades are arbitrary" sentiment can be unpacked into several other concepts of varying truth:
"Grades are arbitrary in the sense that grades are randomly assigned by profs." As you said, I think this is mostly untrue. This is evidenced by the fact that law school performance tends to be consistent. People who do very well do very well throughout and people who do very poorly do very poorly throughout. People in the middle move around some, I think mostly caused by the small sample size. The fat curves at top schools tend to mitigate this in most cases because the vast majority of grades are Bs, B+s, A-s, and As.
[Edit to add one:] "Exam quality is evenly distributed across the curve." This is one aspect where grades do get arbitrary. The hard cut offs between grades force arbitrary decisions. You can clearly tell the difference between the best exam and the worst in the entire pool. The difference between the best B+ and the worst A- is almost certainly arbitrary. This is worsened in the curves of most T14s where there are really only 4 grades given out with any frequency. This is why most top schools have some system to boost quality participation to (theoretically) mitigate this problem.
"Studying hard correlates to grades." This is clearly untrue.
"Doing well on law school exams is a skill that can be learned." The more time I spend in law school and the more law students I talk to, the less I think this is true.
"Grades are difficult to predict ex ante." This is true, mostly because humans in general are bad to terrible at estimating their own competence. This is probably even more true among the pool of people attracted to law school in general and highly ranked law schools especially (type A overachievers who have consistently excelled in the past).
"Grades are poorly, if at all, related to performance as a lawyer." Almost certainly true, but there's not much else for law firms to go on. In addition, firms need some way to signal to clients that the ludicrous billing rates for associates are worth it, and one way is to say "this guy was summa cum laude at Harvard Law."