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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

1L Fall Midterms

I gave a midterm in my one-semester 1L criminal law class this week, and just finished the task of posting student scores. Last year I did not give a scored midterm in this course, but rather an un-scored practice exam that I reviewed in class. I felt that some students did not take the practice exam terribly seriously since it wasn’t graded, and that they instead simply waited for our in-class review. Students therefore did not get a very meaningful individual assessment of whether they were on track for the final exam. As a result, I thought some students did not perform as well on the final exam as they otherwise might have if they had gotten a bit of a wake-up call mid-semester. So, I decided to institute this midterm, making it worth 10% of their final course grade – enough to motivate, but still quite redeemable with a good score on the final exam. My question is how I best can communicate to students not to be overly frustrated or angered by a poor score on the midterm – their only scored mid-Fall exam, to my knowledge – but instead to see it as an opportunity: an opportunity to revisit their approach to the materials and their study practices to ensure they perform at full capability on the final exam? Do most professors or students find a graded mid-Fall 1L midterm helpful at achieving these goals, or is it just an unhelpful source of added anxiety in an already difficult first semester for new law students?

Posted by Brooks Holland on October 11, 2006 at 01:54 PM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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Posted by: run 3 cool math | Mar 31, 2019 11:54:19 PM

Miriam Cherry:

I can't speak for the students in your particular class. However, I always greatly preferred classes with midterms while I was in law school, and was not only grateful for those professors willing to do the work to give us one, but actually angry with professors who did not. I found obtaining good grades in a class with a midterm to be much easier because it encouraged me to synthesize my knowledge into a usable whole much earlier in the semester, and gave me feedback on whether I was doing so successfully. Unfortunately, I think I had only two or three midterms over the course of my entire law school enrollment.

Posted by: Patrick | Oct 16, 2006 4:20:20 PM

Hmmm... well, I tried it one semester. Grading the 1L exam and getting the grades back just made the students dislike me (and it was a midterm that only counted if it helped to raise the grade!). It probably helped everyone in their other classes, helped to flag people who were lost, etc., and so I thought it was useful.

But the students didn't appreciate it. I was responsible for the first grade (because no one else was giving a midterm) and it just made me look like a jerk.

Posted by: Miriam Cherry | Oct 12, 2006 9:45:09 PM

I don't think I buy that, Miriam. Students want feedback which will help them improve so that they can do better on the final and in the future -- so they want to know what they did well and what they did poorly, what was effective and what was ineffective. The part more likely to make students angry, I suspect, is that it counts for 10% of the grade.

Posted by: anon1L | Oct 12, 2006 9:54:16 AM

It's a great idea, pedagogically. However, I'm not sure there is a way to do this without making the consumers, er, I mean students, angry. Everyone says they want feedback. But they only REALLY want feedback if the feedback is good.

Posted by: Miriam Cherry | Oct 11, 2006 11:22:20 PM

Doug: I like that idea, but worry that if I try to do it this year some students might lodge legitimate notice/process objections since I never mentioned it on the syllabus or before the exam. Maybe next time!

Ben: I had thought of reaching out to specific students if they do not respond to my general invitation to the class of using my office hours to discuss the exam. Good questions to keep in mind when I do -- Thanks!

Posted by: Brooks | Oct 11, 2006 5:51:47 PM

I gave a graded midterm (20%) in Property last year, and this year I'm giving a graded series of quizzes. I try very hard to present these tests as a learning experience, and as an opportunity to screw up before a whole semester's grades are on the line. I strongly encourage the students who don't do well to come and talk to me about how to improve, and to try to figure out what went wrong -- was it a test taking problem? a lack of solid knowledge of the law? a missed issue? I also reserved the right to discount the midterm if the final was significantly better, which I did in three cases. The students seemed to buy into the idea, and at least based on my evals from last year, didn't hold it against me.

Posted by: Ben Barros | Oct 11, 2006 4:52:46 PM

If you can convince 1Ls not to be freaked out about a bad grade and to see it as an opportunity instead, you need to run for political office, and I will volunteer for your campaign, oh fearless leader.

Posted by: Dave! | Oct 11, 2006 3:59:29 PM

Could you say that if their final grade is higher than the mid-term grade, you will reduce it to only 5% of the total? This might be a promise that is administratively hard to keep, but it will likely buy you some good will.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 11, 2006 3:57:17 PM

Your concern is part of the reason why I give ungraded midterms to my 1L class, but I agree with the above posters -- at 10%, it can easily be outweighed almost completely in either direction.

I think the most important thing is to give students an idea of how they will be tested.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Oct 11, 2006 3:18:34 PM

Be sure to stress that it needn't have any implications for the rest of their grades, positive or negative. In other words, if they get an A, it doesn't mean that they can slack and if they get a C, it doesn't mean that they should lose their minds.

Posted by: Bart Motes | Oct 11, 2006 3:07:48 PM

If they play around a little with a spreadsheet or a calculator, they'll notice that even an F on a midterm that's 10% would only drag an A down to an A-. It barely has any effect at all. But that won't alleviate any frustration from hard-working students that all their effort seems to have gone for naught -- and that's less easy to address.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Oct 11, 2006 2:02:39 PM

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