For grades, at least through high school and undergrad, I knew many who opened the textbook for the first time the night/morning before midterms/finals and aced all their classes. Personally, I had one class (Ochem) where I did everything possible and still got a C+. Fortunately, working hard worked out for me in other classes.
This is probably a silly question, but what is the purpose of making law school grading so ridiculous?
I think a good part of it is tradition: this is the way that law schools have done it almost since inception. Other justifications would probably include giving employers a sense of who did better than others. Someone who consistently gets As in their classes shows something exceptional about themselves in the sense that, in a large crowd of people statistically similar to you, you somehow consistently managed to outperform all of them.
I think the frustration of lawschool is something really hard to grasp outside the first person perspective. You can know abstractly that yeah, it's curved, sure it's a lot of reading, and it's a lot of pressure, etc. but it really doesn't add up until you're actually 3 months in sitting in class.
Say you do decent on the LSAT and have a respectable undergraduate GPA and end up going to a T50. If you want to be competitive for a biglaw job (which most people who are in it primarily for money do) you're going to need to at least pull top 15% of the class. So you enroll, you get stuck in your section of 100 kids knowing that they should all have roughly similar LSAT and GPAs to you.
As time goes on and people raise their hands and you realize some of the kids are exceptionally smart. Maybe three of them got accepted at much better schools but took scholarships, and are working hard so that they can transfer to HYS next year, so there goes the top 3% right there. Then there's another 5 kids who you just dont know why but just seem to get it, they're working hard and just happen to have a magical knack for lawschool, so already the top 8% is gone in total. You then realize that there are 2-3 kids who never raise their hands but whenever they get called on they just destroy the questions, and seem to have everything down to a pat. You take into consideration that you aren't the worlds fastest typest and that you get nervous when you have to think on your feet (keep in mind in most lawschool classes, there's NO graded homework and 100% of your grade is determined by a ~3 hour final), and you figure another 2-3 kids working just as hard as you and that are similarly smart will beat you just on those grounds.
Suddenly you feel like you're competing for just one slot. You notice half of the class seems to be working pretty hard, staying late into the night and even coming in on weekends. You also start to consider luck factors: what if my computer crashes in the middle of the test and I need to bluebook it? What if I misread a question or overlook one? What if when I spaced out for four minutes in class the other day I missed the professor say something that won't end up in my notes, won't end up in my outline, and will be a chunk of points on the eventual exam (yes, this can happen)? What if I have a bad read on what the professor wants; I really didn't feel that confident about the sample hypo he handed out?
The many ways you can fail starts to pester you. You feel like you should work harder to guarantee your chances, but the possibility that it will all be for nothing seems so real and probable that you can't muster the inspiration. The feelings go back and forth and you decide you need to take a break and you've probably been working too hard and thinking too much. A three day weekend comes up and you decide to just take it off, give yourself a rest. When you come back you realize your inspiration has depleted even more, and you decide to continue to cut back on your work and make it up during the upcoming weekend. During the week you continue to see people working hard in the library, hear some of the smart kids talk about how they caught up on their outlines over the three day weekend, and when your 'hard work' weekend comes around, you feel a little defeated and depressed and don't get that much done. The work starts to build up and your confidence continues to be frustrated. You go through ups and downs of effort until finals, and get your grades back for the first semester, landing you in the top 25%. Not horrible, but you realize to break top 15% you'll need to ace the upcoming semester. Still, you feel like you worked pretty hard the last semester, and everyone talks about working harder this semester so is it realistic that you can ace it? The cycle continues ...
Alright this narrative was probably a little too intense and neurotic but I think a lot of it spells out truths. When you go from feeling like you're competing for 15 slots to feeling like you're competing for ~5 slots, things get very real, especially when your entire grade comes down to a few hour performance. I remember counting down row in class and asking myself if I thought I was smarter than 8 of the 10 people, and the answer was definitely not a yes. Crap is stressful, and it's the same at every law school in the country.