Wednesday, November 02, 2011
Guest: Kicking off guest stint
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In my view, the purpose of grades is to tell employers how good a lawyer we think the student is going to be. For that reason, I think our testing should replicate as closely as possible the conditions of legal practice. To my mind this means:
1) Open book exams, as legal practice is always open book. Whether a student knows the field well enough to get most answers without consulting notes or is sufficiently confused to go into "pigpen mode" is a decent indicator of how good a lawyer they are going to be.
2) Major points off for affirmatively wrong answers, for the reason you mention: A lawyer who gets up there and starts spewing out totally wrong information that reflects a basic misunderstanding of the law is not a lawyer you would want to hire
The question of word limits is trickier, I think. In part, I think it depends on whether it is a take-home exam (in which a word limit on an exam is like a word limit on a brief) or an in-class exam (in which a word limit on an exam seems more artificial, as it's more like a word limit on giving quick advice to a client on the fly).
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Nov 3, 2011 10:32:33 AM
Thanks for weighing in. I tend to agree.
Posted by: Kerri Stone | Nov 3, 2011 10:51:15 AM
1. I don't impose word limits on my exams, and I use open everything exams for the same reason: avoiding student stress. I hate the idea of a student blanking on the final exam (which counts for the student's entire grade) when a quick check of notes could cure everything. I also hate the idea of a student worrying about this happening while studying for the exam, causing unnecessary anxiety and possibly distracting the student from studying. I also dislike the idea of a student taking one of my exams and constantly worrying about whether to include things or leave them out based upon knowing that there is a word limit. Here's a post I did on word limits and exams:
And here's one about "open everything" exams (which notes some other reasons why I give them):
2. With regard to "Pigpen" mode, I always tell students that while my exams are open everything, they should treat them as if they are closed book. In other words, they have their book/notes, but based upon the time constrained nature of the exam, they will likely only have time to consult their book/notes a few times during the exam if they want to finish each question.
3. I always tell students that I don't subtract points for accurate statements of the law that are beyond the scope of the question but do subtract points for incorrect statements of the law for the same reasons Orin and you mentioned. The reason I don't subtract points for accurate statements beyond the scope of the question is that I don't want students making a Solomonic choice if they are unsure about whether something is beyond the scope of a question (e.g., "I don't think that this statement was a dying declaration. But if I don't address the issue, I could lose points. But if I do address the issue, I could also lose points.").
Posted by: Colin Miller | Nov 3, 2011 11:55:50 AM
Doesn't the "replicate real life" goal counsel against in-class exams, or at least exams that are significantly time pressured? Or is the ability to give a full explanation of an issue on the fly actually very important?
Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Nov 3, 2011 12:50:12 PM
I do think that giving a full explanation on the fly is actually very important, as lawyers have to give instant reactions to problems all the time.
Beyond that, when I was in law school there were reports about episodes of cheating on take-home exams that have made me cautious about take-home exams ever since.
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Nov 3, 2011 7:07:39 PM
I obviously don't have first hand knowledge, but my impression is that there are few circumstances where a lawyer can't say, "Give me an hour to look into that and I'll get back to you." Isn't thoughtful consideration a more important virtue to encourage than quick snap judgment? Again, I could very well be wrong, and I'm sure having stuff at your fingertips is necessary sometimes. I'm just doubtful that it's as important, relatively speaking, as the format of law school exams suggests.
And yeah, cheating is obviously a concern
Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Nov 3, 2011 7:27:34 PM