Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

A forum for applicants and admitted students to ask law students and graduates about law school and the practice of law.
09042014
Posts: 18282
Joined: Wed Oct 14, 2009 10:47 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby 09042014 » Sat Oct 06, 2012 3:08 pm

rayiner wrote:
marlborofillet wrote:
dingbat wrote:
Desert Fox wrote: I use Rayiner's outline and checklist

Any chance I can get a copy of this?


+1


My outlines are widely acknowledged as sucking.


Yea, and they sucky. He leaves out stuff that he remembers already.

ksllaw
Posts: 312
Joined: Thu Aug 02, 2012 6:17 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby ksllaw » Sun Oct 14, 2012 4:44 am

rayiner wrote:Ksilaw,

LSAT/GPA doesn't do such a great job of selection that the spreads on exams are that tight. I'm not sure about Harvard, but many of my exams have had enormous spreads. Most people don't get anywhere near all the available points. I took a class that was 75% law review and full of clerkship gunners, and the highest score on our graded midterm was like 150/175. Second highest was like 10 points lower, and median was 20 points below that.

Even though LSAT is the best single indicator we have, statistically it explains less than half of the difference in grades. A group of 172/3.8's is going to have wildly different abilities in terms of figuring out what professors are looking for, how to write good outlines, etc.

I'm quite firmly of the opinion that differences in hiring between tiers of schools are more exaggerated than differences in law exam taking ability. Median at Harvard is going to blow away blow away median at NYLS, but bottom 10% at Harvard genuinely doesn't get his to take law exams and they would not do well against top students at lower ranked schools who do get how to take law exams.



Sorry just getting to respond tonight. Been studying for the LSAT and doing other stuff. :mrgreen: Will have to keep it short, as I'm slightly sick too. ..sniffles. :cry:

So, they do post grades publicly for everyone to see in each law school class (hopefully w/o actual names attached, right?!)? And, if so, are these made available only to those in the class or others as well.

I would agree that if the grades vary by a wide margin (consistently across many classes) then that's a case of vastly different abilities being displayed (the ability to take a law school exam that is). I'm just curious if we have a large data set that shows this?

User avatar
rayiner
Posts: 6184
Joined: Thu Dec 11, 2008 11:43 am

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby rayiner » Sun Oct 14, 2012 3:01 pm

ksllaw wrote:
rayiner wrote:Ksilaw,

LSAT/GPA doesn't do such a great job of selection that the spreads on exams are that tight. I'm not sure about Harvard, but many of my exams have had enormous spreads. Most people don't get anywhere near all the available points. I took a class that was 75% law review and full of clerkship gunners, and the highest score on our graded midterm was like 150/175. Second highest was like 10 points lower, and median was 20 points below that.

Even though LSAT is the best single indicator we have, statistically it explains less than half of the difference in grades. A group of 172/3.8's is going to have wildly different abilities in terms of figuring out what professors are looking for, how to write good outlines, etc.

I'm quite firmly of the opinion that differences in hiring between tiers of schools are more exaggerated than differences in law exam taking ability. Median at Harvard is going to blow away blow away median at NYLS, but bottom 10% at Harvard genuinely doesn't get his to take law exams and they would not do well against top students at lower ranked schools who do get how to take law exams.



Sorry just getting to respond tonight. Been studying for the LSAT and doing other stuff. :mrgreen: Will have to keep it short, as I'm slightly sick too. ..sniffles. :cry:

So, they do post grades publicly for everyone to see in each law school class (hopefully w/o actual names attached, right?!)? And, if so, are these made available only to those in the class or others as well.

I would agree that if the grades vary by a wide margin (consistently across many classes) then that's a case of vastly different abilities being displayed (the ability to take a law school exam that is). I'm just curious if we have a large data set that shows this?


I've had several professors post grade distributions. Nothing public, just an email with how many people got how many points. Not a big data set, but enough to see the trend.

It's also the only thing consistent with the observed GPA distributions. If exam ability was more closely packed, you'd have a lower standard deviation in the GPA distribution. I.e. people near the top of the curve would get median-pwned more often, because there was as much margin between them to begin with. But we don't see that.

User avatar
JamMasterJ
Posts: 6688
Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2011 7:17 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby JamMasterJ » Sun Oct 14, 2012 3:07 pm

hey ray, can i get your outline and checklist just so that I can format my own?

09042014
Posts: 18282
Joined: Wed Oct 14, 2009 10:47 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby 09042014 » Sun Oct 14, 2012 3:38 pm

JamMasterJ wrote:hey ray, can i get your outline and checklist just so that I can format my own?

I don't recommend it. His format is weird and counter intuitive.

User avatar
rayiner
Posts: 6184
Joined: Thu Dec 11, 2008 11:43 am

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby rayiner » Sun Oct 14, 2012 4:08 pm

Desert Fox wrote:
JamMasterJ wrote:hey ray, can i get your outline and checklist just so that I can format my own?

I don't recommend it. His format is weird and counter intuitive.


My outlines are wildly unpopular. :lol:

Here is the torts outline from NU that I used as a reference: http://www.scribd.com/doc/109994540/Torts-Outline. I think it's got the right length/content. I'm not a big fan of indentation in formatting, but most people seem to prefer that.

As for the checklist, it's very personal. It depends on what you remember and what you need to be cued on. The way I recommend to do a checklist is to do a practice exam very thoroughly. Take all the time you need to come up with a good answer based on your outline. Then, put in your checklist all the stuff you need to cue yourself to remember everything in your outline, and order it based on your model answer. Then reorder your outline to match the order of your checklist.

ksllaw
Posts: 312
Joined: Thu Aug 02, 2012 6:17 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby ksllaw » Mon Oct 15, 2012 6:12 pm

Desert Fox wrote:
It heavily rewards speed of analysis compared to strength of analysis. To almost an absurd degree. It rewards voluminous shallow analysis.



So elegant writing and proper grammar......basically....all the elements of a well-written paper from a professional and stylistic/aesthetic standpoint don't matter for these law school exams is that right? It's about speed and racking up points (like a video game, lol) for "hitting" on various issues?

Are points ever taken off for poor organization or anything that's stylistic? Does one even have to write in complete sentences or would fragments and bullet points even do, lol? :mrgreen:

I'm asking very seriously actually, despite my smileys and tone! :P It's just kind of funny that a law exam might be more like a mad dash to for points like playing a video game versus deep, careful analytical thinking and clear or beautiful prose to present those thoughts.

Or am I characterizing it incorrectly?

User avatar
rayiner
Posts: 6184
Joined: Thu Dec 11, 2008 11:43 am

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby rayiner » Mon Oct 15, 2012 6:28 pm

ksllaw wrote:
Desert Fox wrote:
It heavily rewards speed of analysis compared to strength of analysis. To almost an absurd degree. It rewards voluminous shallow analysis.



So elegant writing and proper grammar......basically....all the elements of a well-written paper from a professional and stylistic/aesthetic standpoint don't matter for these law school exams is that right? It's about speed and racking up points (like a video game, lol) for "hitting" on various issues?


It's all about getting points from the professor's rubric. Aesthetics really doesn't matter at all. Style doesn't matter, except to the extent you need to use complete sentences because it's hard to write precise analysis in fragments. Organization only matters so that the professor can easily go back and forth from your exam to the grading rubric to give you points. It's a very low bar.

Here's the best way to understand legal exams. As far as I can tell, professors write exams by starting with a course outline. They add facts to each element and issue in the course outline. These facts are usually such that they can go either way with respect to the corresponding element or issue. Then they cut and paste these facts into a Word document in more or less outline order, and add a small amount of filler narrative to make a hypothetical. The professor then grades you by seeing how well you can work backwards from the facts to the original outline, and how well your analysis shows you understand why particular facts are related to particular parts of the outline. It's fairly mechanical stuff. It's not like the professor is sitting there thinking about your argument in any holistic sense. The professor could probably grade everyone's exams a few sentences at a time and come up with the same result.

ksllaw
Posts: 312
Joined: Thu Aug 02, 2012 6:17 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby ksllaw » Mon Oct 15, 2012 6:45 pm

rayiner wrote:
ksllaw wrote:
Desert Fox wrote:
It heavily rewards speed of analysis compared to strength of analysis. To almost an absurd degree. It rewards voluminous shallow analysis.



So elegant writing and proper grammar......basically....all the elements of a well-written paper from a professional and stylistic/aesthetic standpoint don't matter for these law school exams is that right? It's about speed and racking up points (like a video game, lol) for "hitting" on various issues?


It's all about getting points from the professor's rubric. Aesthetics really doesn't matter at all. Style doesn't matter, except to the extent you need to use complete sentences because it's hard to write precise analysis in fragments. Organization only matters so that the professor can easily go back and forth from your exam to the grading rubric to give you points. It's a very low bar.

Here's the best way to understand legal exams. As far as I can tell, professors write exams by starting with a course outline. They add facts to each element and issue in the course outline. These facts are usually such that they can go either way with respect to the corresponding element or issue. Then they cut and paste these facts into a Word document in more or less outline order, and add a small amount of filler narrative to make a hypothetical. The professor then grades you by seeing how well you can work backwards from the facts to the original outline, and how well your analysis shows you understand why particular facts are related to particular parts of the outline. It's fairly mechanical stuff. It's not like the professor is sitting there thinking about your argument in any holistic sense. The professor could probably grade everyone's exams a few sentences at a time and come up with the same result.


I see. I see. Very interesting and informative, rayiner.

I'm not sure I can think of an exam in UG I've had that was like that.

Lastly, are there negative points for incorrect analysis? Or is it just a "+" sort of thing? ...Like if you cite the right law and application then it's plus X points. But the prof. ignores wrong stuff.

B/c if no negative points, could someone just argue every conceivable point-of-view, lol? :lol: Like trying to cover all bases and banking on one of the lines of reasoning being right.

ETA: Also, the way you guys describe law school exams, they seem to have a lot of similarities with the writing sample portion of the LSAT. Maybe not in the fact that style and presentation don't matter as much, but at least in what you're generally asked to do. You have to take some dilemma with two sides that can be plausibly argued and then given the facts and criteria of that situation argue for one side over the other on the LSAT.

User avatar
scifiguy
Posts: 575
Joined: Sat Sep 15, 2012 2:41 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby scifiguy » Tue Nov 27, 2012 9:29 pm

My question is this...

In UG, we sometimes come across professors whoh have certain political, worldview, or theoretical biases towards the class material. Some even go so far as to attack you if you disagree with them. And it's sometimes feared that if you disagree with them on a graded assignment or even just in class that they may penalize you for it.

I've heard students say about so and so professor, "Just agree with all the liberal stuff they say in your essays and you'll get an A."

Is this ever something to worry about and that happens in law school? Would you be penalized for holding a particular position that your prof. disagrees with, but that you've supported in a reasonable manner through logic and evidence? I've had a very hardcore Marxist UG prof. who was actually fair in that he made it known what side he was on in regards to the class material, but would still present the "other side" to our class and leave it up to us to decide. Agreeing with him wouldn't necessarilyl get you an A. You had to still do a good job supporting your position. I think he still valued good argument over his own theoreticasl and political biases.

But there's always the worry that some profs won't do that. Or at least if they don't penalize you they may reward you if you just say what they want to hear.

09042014
Posts: 18282
Joined: Wed Oct 14, 2009 10:47 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby 09042014 » Tue Nov 27, 2012 9:40 pm

scifiguy wrote:My question is this...

In UG, we sometimes come across professors whoh have certain political, worldview, or theoretical biases towards the class material. Some even go so far as to attack you if you disagree with them. And it's sometimes feared that if you disagree with them on a graded assignment or even just in class that they may penalize you for it.

I've heard students say about so and so professor, "Just agree with all the liberal stuff they say in your essays and you'll get an A."

Is this ever something to worry about and that happens in law school? Would you be penalized for holding a particular position that your prof. disagrees with, but that you've supported in a reasonable manner through logic and evidence? I've had a very hardcore Marxist UG prof. who was actually fair in that he made it known what side he was on in regards to the class material, but would still present the "other side" to our class and leave it up to us to decide. Agreeing with him wouldn't necessarilyl get you an A. You had to still do a good job supporting your position. I think he still valued good argument over his own theoreticasl and political biases.

But there's always the worry that some profs won't do that. Or at least if they don't penalize you they may reward you if you just say what they want to hear.


In most classes 1L there isn't a whole lot of room for politics. There is some room for politics for Civ Pro, and a lot in Con Law.

But generally you are expected to argue ALL sides.


But when your Professor says X is the law. Then you better fucking proceed like X is the law. For example, my torts professor thought there existed a "Morrison tort" which was basically, you do harm to someone, you are liable. You better fucking write about that on the test.

dazzleberry
Posts: 17
Joined: Mon Jan 16, 2012 11:12 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby dazzleberry » Tue Dec 04, 2012 12:42 pm

There's a definite level of arbitrariness to law school issue-spotting essay exams. Less so for multiple choice exams and short-answer exams calling for succinct answers.

It's clear enough that a professor with 70 students grading issue-spotting essay exams on tort law (curved of course), will, if forced to re-grade these exams at a later date, (say, 2 weeks after the first go around) grade many of these exams differently. So much is dependent on outside factors: the order in which the exams are looked at, the professor's mood, and so on.

I was shy of a an A/A- several times, and the response I got when I spoke to my professors was usually: "well, I already gave out all the xyz grades by the time I got to your exam, sorry." In one class a professor sent out a class-wide email apologizing for giving out a bunch of Bs, saying that so many students deserved higher grades, but that he was forced to give them lower grades because of the curve requirement. Now how's that for fairness?

So yes - there is an element of luck to receiving ideal grades on law school exams for many students.

User avatar
TatteredDignity
Posts: 1520
Joined: Fri Jul 04, 2008 2:06 am

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby TatteredDignity » Tue Dec 04, 2012 1:08 pm

The best way to avoid the arbitrariness of grading is to stand out as way worse than everyone or way better than everyone (or most everyone). Outside the mushy middle where everyone complains about how their B+ could have been an A- if their prof hadn't eaten fruit loops for breakfast that day, there's a clear difference between the very best exams, the middle of the pack, and the exams where the student isn't a native english speaker. This is from the mouths of my profs.

No one likes to admit this, because they're convinced they've destroyed the exam, but console themselves that everyone else did, too. So they got shafted with median. This simply means they've never seen what an A+ exam looks like.

User avatar
scifiguy
Posts: 575
Joined: Sat Sep 15, 2012 2:41 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby scifiguy » Wed Dec 05, 2012 9:58 am

dazzleberry wrote:There's a definite level of arbitrariness to law school issue-spotting essay exams. Less so for multiple choice exams and short-answer exams calling for succinct answers.

It's clear enough that a professor with 70 students grading issue-spotting essay exams on tort law (curved of course), will, if forced to re-grade these exams at a later date, (say, 2 weeks after the first go around) grade many of these exams differently. So much is dependent on outside factors: the order in which the exams are looked at, the professor's mood, and so on.

I was shy of a an A/A- several times, and the response I got when I spoke to my professors was usually: "well, I already gave out all the xyz grades by the time I got to your exam, sorry." In one class a professor sent out a class-wide email apologizing for giving out a bunch of Bs, saying that so many students deserved higher grades, but that he was forced to give them lower grades because of the curve requirement. Now how's that for fairness?
So yes - there is an element of luck to receiving ideal grades on law school exams for many students.


Wow!

That's interesting the professor would actually apologize. Do you atttend a T14?

So, sometimes the order in which your paper is graded can determine whether you get an A/A- or B/B+? That's ridiculous! :evil:

User avatar
TatteredDignity
Posts: 1520
Joined: Fri Jul 04, 2008 2:06 am

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby TatteredDignity » Wed Dec 05, 2012 10:53 am

scifiguy wrote:
Wow!

That's interesting the professor would actually apologize. Do you attend a T14?



:lol:

User avatar
FeelTheHeat
Posts: 5203
Joined: Tue Jan 18, 2011 2:32 am

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby FeelTheHeat » Wed Dec 05, 2012 10:57 am

scifiguy wrote:
dazzleberry wrote:There's a definite level of arbitrariness to law school issue-spotting essay exams. Less so for multiple choice exams and short-answer exams calling for succinct answers.

It's clear enough that a professor with 70 students grading issue-spotting essay exams on tort law (curved of course), will, if forced to re-grade these exams at a later date, (say, 2 weeks after the first go around) grade many of these exams differently. So much is dependent on outside factors: the order in which the exams are looked at, the professor's mood, and so on.

I was shy of a an A/A- several times, and the response I got when I spoke to my professors was usually: "well, I already gave out all the xyz grades by the time I got to your exam, sorry." In one class a professor sent out a class-wide email apologizing for giving out a bunch of Bs, saying that so many students deserved higher grades, but that he was forced to give them lower grades because of the curve requirement. Now how's that for fairness?
So yes - there is an element of luck to receiving ideal grades on law school exams for many students.


Wow!

That's interesting the professor would actually apologize. Do you atttend a T14?

So, sometimes the order in which your paper is graded can determine whether you get an A/A- or B/B+? That's ridiculous! :evil:


Yup. That's why I always turn in my exam at the end so I'm one of the first the professor grades.

User avatar
scifiguy
Posts: 575
Joined: Sat Sep 15, 2012 2:41 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby scifiguy » Wed Dec 05, 2012 11:07 am

FeelTheHeat wrote:
scifiguy wrote:
dazzleberry wrote:There's a definite level of arbitrariness to law school issue-spotting essay exams. Less so for multiple choice exams and short-answer exams calling for succinct answers.

It's clear enough that a professor with 70 students grading issue-spotting essay exams on tort law (curved of course), will, if forced to re-grade these exams at a later date, (say, 2 weeks after the first go around) grade many of these exams differently. So much is dependent on outside factors: the order in which the exams are looked at, the professor's mood, and so on.

I was shy of a an A/A- several times, and the response I got when I spoke to my professors was usually: "well, I already gave out all the xyz grades by the time I got to your exam, sorry." In one class a professor sent out a class-wide email apologizing for giving out a bunch of Bs, saying that so many students deserved higher grades, but that he was forced to give them lower grades because of the curve requirement. Now how's that for fairness?
So yes - there is an element of luck to receiving ideal grades on law school exams for many students.


Wow!

That's interesting the professor would actually apologize. Do you atttend a T14?

So, sometimes the order in which your paper is graded can determine whether you get an A/A- or B/B+? That's ridiculous! :evil:


Yup. That's why I always turn in my exam at the end so I'm one of the first the professor grades.



Seriously??

I mean all kidding aside. These are the considerations that may determine whether someone gets biglaw or ends up possibly with no job after graduation?

Student A turns in exams at the end of the period and gets graded first.

Student B turns in exams towards the beginning and gets graded last.

Despite SA and SB having A-worthy papers, SA gets all A's and A-'s in law school while SB gets median. Because SB attends T15-T20-ish school, where median may not be enough, then SB gets no job after graduation and 150K debt. SA rises to top of the class and gets biglaw.

:shock: :shock: :shock:

User avatar
hume85
Posts: 675
Joined: Mon Dec 05, 2011 5:38 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby hume85 » Wed Dec 05, 2012 11:11 am

scifiguy wrote:
FeelTheHeat wrote:
scifiguy wrote:
dazzleberry wrote:There's a definite level of arbitrariness to law school issue-spotting essay exams. Less so for multiple choice exams and short-answer exams calling for succinct answers.

It's clear enough that a professor with 70 students grading issue-spotting essay exams on tort law (curved of course), will, if forced to re-grade these exams at a later date, (say, 2 weeks after the first go around) grade many of these exams differently. So much is dependent on outside factors: the order in which the exams are looked at, the professor's mood, and so on.

I was shy of a an A/A- several times, and the response I got when I spoke to my professors was usually: "well, I already gave out all the xyz grades by the time I got to your exam, sorry." In one class a professor sent out a class-wide email apologizing for giving out a bunch of Bs, saying that so many students deserved higher grades, but that he was forced to give them lower grades because of the curve requirement. Now how's that for fairness?
So yes - there is an element of luck to receiving ideal grades on law school exams for many students.


Wow!

That's interesting the professor would actually apologize. Do you atttend a T14?

So, sometimes the order in which your paper is graded can determine whether you get an A/A- or B/B+? That's ridiculous! :evil:


Yup. That's why I always turn in my exam at the end so I'm one of the first the professor grades.



Seriously??

I mean all kidding aside. These are the considerations that may determine whether someone gets biglaw or ends up possibly with no job after graduation?

Student A turns in exams at the end of the period and gets graded first.

Student B turns in exams towards the beginning and gets graded last.

Despite SA and SB having A-worthy papers, SA gets all A's and A-'s in law school while SB gets median. Because SB attends T15-T20-ish school, where median may not be enough, then SB gets no job after graduation and 150K debt. SA rises to top of the class and gets biglaw.

:shock: :shock: :shock:


Why are you taking this guy seriously?

User avatar
scifiguy
Posts: 575
Joined: Sat Sep 15, 2012 2:41 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby scifiguy » Wed Dec 05, 2012 11:16 am

He sounds serious to me.

Please tell me it's all a jokje! I would love to know that this is not how law school grades really are determined!

User avatar
dingbat
Posts: 4976
Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2012 9:12 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby dingbat » Wed Dec 05, 2012 11:22 am

scifiguy wrote:He sounds serious to me.

Please tell me it's all a jokje! I would love to know that this is not how law school grades really are determined!

Considering how varied professors grading methodology varies, it's possible, but it would definitely be a minority who "run out".
However, that doesn't mean the order in which your exam is read doesn't make a difference. If you're the first to make a good argument, you might get more points than the professor might award to the 60th time he reads the same argument. Inversely, if the professor has read 50 dumb answers and yours is the semi-intelligent, you might be awarded more points than you would have otherwise. But by and large, most professors use a scoring metric that tries to take subjectivity out of it (by awarding points for both spotting issues and arguing them well). The stand-out answers will always get better grades and the stupid answers will always get worse grades. But in the middle of the pack it might make a (small) difference

User avatar
IAFG
Posts: 6665
Joined: Mon Jun 15, 2009 1:26 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby IAFG » Sat Dec 08, 2012 5:59 am

scifiguy wrote:
FeelTheHeat wrote:
scifiguy wrote:
dazzleberry wrote:There's a definite level of arbitrariness to law school issue-spotting essay exams. Less so for multiple choice exams and short-answer exams calling for succinct answers.

It's clear enough that a professor with 70 students grading issue-spotting essay exams on tort law (curved of course), will, if forced to re-grade these exams at a later date, (say, 2 weeks after the first go around) grade many of these exams differently. So much is dependent on outside factors: the order in which the exams are looked at, the professor's mood, and so on.

I was shy of a an A/A- several times, and the response I got when I spoke to my professors was usually: "well, I already gave out all the xyz grades by the time I got to your exam, sorry." In one class a professor sent out a class-wide email apologizing for giving out a bunch of Bs, saying that so many students deserved higher grades, but that he was forced to give them lower grades because of the curve requirement. Now how's that for fairness?
So yes - there is an element of luck to receiving ideal grades on law school exams for many students.


Wow!

That's interesting the professor would actually apologize. Do you atttend a T14?

So, sometimes the order in which your paper is graded can determine whether you get an A/A- or B/B+? That's ridiculous! :evil:


Yup. That's why I always turn in my exam at the end so I'm one of the first the professor grades.

Do not go to a law school where median will not get you the job you need to recover from the debt you take out. That is a bad plan no matter how grades are determined.

Seriously??

I mean all kidding aside. These are the considerations that may determine whether someone gets biglaw or ends up possibly with no job after graduation?

Student A turns in exams at the end of the period and gets graded first.

Student B turns in exams towards the beginning and gets graded last.

Despite SA and SB having A-worthy papers, SA gets all A's and A-'s in law school while SB gets median. Because SB attends T15-T20-ish school, where median may not be enough, then SB gets no job after graduation and 150K debt. SA rises to top of the class and gets biglaw.

:shock: :shock: :shock:

User avatar
vanwinkle
Posts: 9740
Joined: Sun Dec 21, 2008 3:02 am

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby vanwinkle » Sat Dec 08, 2012 12:54 pm

scifiguy wrote:
dazzleberry wrote:There's a definite level of arbitrariness to law school issue-spotting essay exams. Less so for multiple choice exams and short-answer exams calling for succinct answers.

It's clear enough that a professor with 70 students grading issue-spotting essay exams on tort law (curved of course), will, if forced to re-grade these exams at a later date, (say, 2 weeks after the first go around) grade many of these exams differently. So much is dependent on outside factors: the order in which the exams are looked at, the professor's mood, and so on.

I was shy of a an A/A- several times, and the response I got when I spoke to my professors was usually: "well, I already gave out all the xyz grades by the time I got to your exam, sorry." In one class a professor sent out a class-wide email apologizing for giving out a bunch of Bs, saying that so many students deserved higher grades, but that he was forced to give them lower grades because of the curve requirement. Now how's that for fairness?
So yes - there is an element of luck to receiving ideal grades on law school exams for many students.

Wow!

That's interesting the professor would actually apologize. Do you atttend a T14?

So, sometimes the order in which your paper is graded can determine whether you get an A/A- or B/B+? That's ridiculous! :evil:

Lol.

I'll take pity on you and explain for real: What the above poster meant wasn't that the professor hands out grades in order based on when they graded them, he meant that the professor thought more exams near the top deserved A's than he could give. Professors grade exams blindly and then apply the curve. Only the letter grade is left; you don't have numerical grades, just A/B+/B/etc.

Here's an example. Assume that you're at a school where the curve is fixed and the professor can only give A-'s to the top 10% of the class, and at most one A. In a class of 50 students, that means the professor can only give 5 A/A- grades. The professor grades everyone's exams on a 100-point scale, and these are the 10 highest grades in the class:

88
87
85
85
84

82
72
71
71
71

The ones in bold are the 5 highest grades. Their numerical grades become A's; the guy with the 88 gets an A, while the four below him get an A-. The dude with the 87 gets the same A- as the dude with the 84. The fact that one was 3 points higher than the other gets forgotten; they both end up as "A- students".

But look at that poor guy who got an 82. He was so close to being in the top 5 exams, and so much closer than everyone below him. But he wasn't in the top 5 grades, and the professor must follow the curve. The curve says that only 5 people get A's or A-s, and the professor has 5 other people who get those. The professor likes the 82 exam answer a lot more than the other B+ answers, but the curve makes him give the guy with the 82 a B+. Mr. 82 gets the same B+ as Mr. 72, even though his exam answer was 10 points higher.

The professor talks to Mr. 82, and gives them a sympathetic answer. He says, "I gave out all the A's when I got to your exam." He means that he only had 5 A's to give out on the curve and they were already given to 5 other students with slightly higher grades. He thinks Mr. 82 had a great exam answer, but the curve and the 5 better grades means he's out of A's and A-s to give. He says, "I'm sorry." He feels bad for them, because they did well, and clearly better than the other B+ students, but he just can't give them an A.

User avatar
20130312
Posts: 3842
Joined: Wed Nov 09, 2011 8:53 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby 20130312 » Sat Dec 08, 2012 12:56 pm

Thanks for that explanation vanwinkle. Really helpful.

ksllaw
Posts: 312
Joined: Thu Aug 02, 2012 6:17 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby ksllaw » Tue Dec 18, 2012 2:56 am

rayiner wrote:I've had several professors post grade distributions. Nothing public, just an email with how many people got how many points. Not a big data set, but enough to see the trend.

It's also the only thing consistent with the observed GPA distributions. If exam ability was more closely packed, you'd have a lower standard deviation in the GPA distribution. I.e. people near the top of the curve would get median-pwned more often, because there was as much margin between them to begin with. But we don't see that.


Hi, rayiner,

Does this in any way contradict what you said in the post about Who is at the bottom of the class?: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=193803

Quote: I'd say most of the bottom 20% of the class is composed of people like this. That said, on any given exam its easily possible to be bottom 1/3 even if you end up top 1/3 overall. The curve is much tighter than you think.

I was late in following-up with and reading that one, but found it interesting.

rayiner wrote:So grades aren't arbitrary in the most literal sense, because if you discover the winning strategy for one exam, and use it consistently, you'll generally do pretty well on all your exams. However, that's not much comfort because there isn't a lot you can do to determine if you've found the winning strategy until you actually take your exams and get your grades.


Also, I was ruminating over these these comments more after reading your comments in the other thread on "bottom of the class" students. Your discovery of your torts professor's grading rubric seemed completely fortuitous. And it turned out that the strategy you used in that class worked out well in most of your other classes.

Questions:

i.) Can it be reasonably expected that professors of the same law school grade exams using a similar rubric? How did you know (or did you?) that that strategy would work well in other classes?

ii.) What about different law schools? Is there any certainy that your strategy would work elsewhere and the grading rubric the same? Do students ultimately have to just play it by ear and wait and see what their particular professors are like and guess as to how best to approach the exam based on that info.?

iii.) Is there any certainty about the grading criteria that can be had whatsoever prior to an exam short of a "lucky" situation as you described in the other thread?
Last edited by ksllaw on Fri Jan 18, 2013 1:20 am, edited 2 times in total.

dixiecupdrinking
Posts: 3139
Joined: Sun Oct 26, 2008 2:39 pm

Re: Is Law School Grading Arbitrary?

Postby dixiecupdrinking » Tue Dec 18, 2012 10:35 am

Grading feels arbitrary when it's on a curve. It sucks to walk out of an exam knowing that you nailed it only to get a so-so grade because everyone else nailed it too. Doesn't mean it's arbitrary, it's just the nature of the game.




Return to “Ask a Law Student / Graduate”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Justtrying2help, White Dwarf and 5 guests