Monday, December 14, 2009

Speaking of Exams, Some Professors Would Like to Know Who You Are

Sorry for the infrequent updates y'all, we've been busy, what with trying not to fail out of Law School and all.

Anyway, students often complain that LS exams are graded rather subjectively and arbitrarily, and that there is basically no chance for review of this subjective and arbitrary process. But at least, to the students' advantage, such vagaries don't correspond to a student's perceived performance in class prior to exam, or to the professors like (or dislike) of him.

Well, for now anyway. But one professor on a well-known law blog argues that law exams shouldn't be anonymous anymore:
My impression is that while my students are generally big fans of anonymous assessment, my colleagues at Drexel and elsewhere may not be.

Part of this phenomenon has to do with the realization by many legal academics that blind grading can result in some “unfortunate” outcomes. We have all had the student that we think is bound for great things do poorly on our exam and the deadbeat student get a B+ (or even an A-). That hurts given that potential employers (law firms, judges, and others) use grades as a primary screening tool when deciding between candidates.

That said, I think my discomfort comes from a slightly different place: while acknowledging the strong counters in literary theory and elsewhere, I tend to believe that texts ought not to be separated from their authors. It is authors as much as words that mark our paths through emails, essays, articles, short stories, and exams.

Literary theory? For realz? Our response is three-fold:

(1) Blind-grading allows the grader to be "objective", at least in so far as his personal likes and dislikes won't subconsciously (or, in the worst-case, consciously) be taken into account for grading purposes.

(2) I'm not writing literary analysis when I'm writing an exam. Except for my Law and Literature exam, of course. I'm writing cold, hard, legal reasoning. When I write a law exam, I'm often not answering: "What do I actually think should happen here" but "What can I argue the easiest". For that reason, I'm not going to stand by what I say in exam the same way I would stand by a brief. For the latter, Rule 11 means that I have to mean everything in good faith when I put my name down there. For the former, my signature just means that I didn't violate the honor code, not that my arguments are made in good faith (and they typically aren't - I've said some crazy things on exams).

(3) Flame? The Professor will recognize the true gunner's exam for its use of double entendres, Greek and Latin phrases, and citations to the Professor's law review articles. Or he should, anyway!

Your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

"We have all had the student that we think is bound for great things do poorly on our exam and the deadbeat student get a B+ (or even an A-)."

Stupid. If you think a student is bound for great things and they tank the exam, maybe you were wrong. If you want to do something for them, write a letter of recommendation. Or better yet, have a participation factor in your grading scheme. You shouldn't be skewing a kid's grades because of where you think they're headed - that's the whole point of anonymous grading.

As for this business about divorcing authors from their work, this is an exam, not an epic poem.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 6:25. If you're so concerned with a bum student rocking an A-, then actually take attendance, note who speaks in class, and adjust accordingly.

Anonymous said...

I like how everyone likes to complain about the arbitrariness of exam grading, but also doesn't want their day to day showing in class count.

Law school style exams certainly aren't a always great indications of someone's knowledge of the material, so why not allow a prof to give the benefit of the doubt to students who that profs know really understood it?

Anonymous said...

This is a COMPLETE scapegoat for refusing to design exams that better sort according to whatever sorting function professors seem to find ideal.

The bias, even for the most well-meaning of professors, of knowing who you're grading is just way too strong NOT to combat.

This prof should take her job more seriously and try different exam styles. Or introduce other requirements in addition to the exam (please don't make it participation- the amount of utter crap we have to listen to-- and even force ourselves to spew-- when a professor makes participation a significant part of our grade is almost unbearable).

Anonymous said...

At least grading issues seem to preoccupy other schools' faculties, unlike ours, which seems content to believe that the system we have is just fine and dandy.

Anonymous said...


I don't think it's so much that people do not want their day to day class performance to count so much as it is that they don't want it counted by grading exams with what would obviously be a selective bias. I don't mind having class performance graded, but when there is a perfectly reasonable method of grading it separately and adding it to the blindly graded exam, there is no reason to let profs know whose exam they are grading.

Anonymous said...

While I understand the points here, can someone tell me where in the legal profession things are graded blindly? Even someone who just finished their summer can tell you that legal reasoning is not what gets you to partner. The impression you make is key.

How bout job hiring? How is it that law review people couldnt get jobs last year with great grades while others had 10 offers with mediocre grades? Maybe those systems are flawed, but still, it might be useful for students to actually get some indication of this and feedback on it while in law school, intead of thinking they dominated and then realizing that their grades reflect skills that are of only some importance in a mixed skill set.

This is NOT to say that as a rule blind grading makes no sense. It often does. But the real question is what is the EXAM itself evaluating. As 818 points out the exam is often NOT a good assessment of knowledge or your ability to impress that knowledge on someone else. And here the point by the writer is even professors recognize that flaw

Anonymous said...

I think blind grading makes sense. But regardless, the arguments that guy makes are crazy. He doesn't talk about class participation, he talks about the future prospects of the student. What is that about? Is it like the NFL draft when you reward somebody for what they may become, instead of what they did on the exam?
He is more bizarre than J. Crew Model (a.k.a. douche nozzle).

Anonymous said...

People with bad grades try to rationalize their poor exam performances.

Anonymous said...

I heard NGSL members don't have to take exams? Is this true???? Can anyone shed some light?? If so its very disturbing.

Anonymous said...


If legal job-seekers don't realize that their academic skills are only one part of a mixed skill set, they have much bigger problems. Law school is supposed to teach people the law - it's not supposed to be responsible for teaching them how to socialize like normal human beings (the only reason I can think of for the discrepancy you mention). If you haven't learned how to do that by now, there's no helping you - certainly not in the context of the classroom, which of all places in law school is presumably the *most* geared toward teaching you the law.

That's not to say that there aren't real problems with law-school grading, but de-anonymizing exams is not a solution to any of those problems.

Anonymous said...

everyone knows that you can just ask a teacher to be their RA the next semester or summer and that way you automatically get an A and dont have to worry about stupid things like "exams" and "grades." just ask jeffrey o'connell.

Anonymous said...


I've heard this accusation before and I'm curious if this is another person from the same class/section bitter over one person's grade or if this is an ongoing problem for this professor. So, would you mind specifying which year you are (1L, 2L, 3L)?

Anonymous said...

2:21 - how many leslie classes have you taken? six? seven?

Anonymous said...

wtf is a drexel?

Anonymous said...

Awesome! fantastic idea, but will this really work?