What about those in the bottom of the class at a school like Harvard?
There's the argument that since someone has to be
at the bottom of a curved class, then even potentially brilliant students may end up at the bottom of a class. I choose Harvard for it's TOP 3 ranking and overall reputation as the place where the "best" and "brightest" go (overall, in all fields of study).
Suppose we took an incoming class of physics students comprised of the following members:
James Clerk Maxwell
And let's say they are graded on a forced class curve, where bottom 20% essentially fails. Would the four bottom students on this list somehow be viewed as defective (try randomly selecting any four)? Almost any four you select (except for a grouping that included me, lol), would yield four of the all-time greatest physicists.
Recall that Einstein was considered such a goof-off and slacker (cutting classes) in his physics class that he couldn't get a job for several years after graduating. And when he finally did it wasn't as a physicst, but as a lowly patent clerk. It was there toiling in complete obscurity in his off time that he came up with his four famous miracle year papers. So he could have easily been at the bottom of this class in his youth.
Ah, but maybe you'll say I've stacked the deck here with all-time greats, given too small a sample size of incoming class members, and may even argue that Einstein - at that point of his career - deserved to be jobless, based on his school performance (which didn't necessarily capture/measure what his greatest asset was, creativity).
We can analyze this more with those things in mind. For example, do those timed, once-a-semester law school exams really capture all there is to being a good lawyer (e.g. Would a mock trial competition not be better in some respects, by forcing students to utilize their comprehensive legal skills in a simulated legal situation......or a brief or moot court competition, etc.)?
And, still, what of the basic common counter-argument that since someone has to place
at the bottom of a curved class then even great students may be at the bottom of a class if the class is comprised with great students across the board? We could expand that class of great phycists above to include other greats as well (although, admittedly, that one does have literally some of the best of the best of the best of the best
...I threw in a few contemporaries, such as Susskind, who may or may not end up being viewed that way when he retires - probably soon).
Is the point system for law exams really capable of accurately telling apart students? What if Top 20% scored a 99, 2nd 20% scored a 98, third 20% scored a 97...and so on. If the scores are close together overall, then are the exams really capable of differentiating students adequately? Would it not be that possibly just the fastest writers of the bunch may have been the ones who did the best?
Just pushing the question further.
[ETA: I'm aware of some counter-arguments to this line of reasoning as well (e.g., law school admissions doesn't always adquately factor in rigor of program of study - due to an eye towards the USNWR ranking criteria - so that a person with a 4.0/168 LSAT in Women's Studies from Southern California Tropical Paradise College may not have been a better incoming student than the person with a 3.4/177 LSAT from Cal Tech in Physics), but just asking for the sake of discussion.]