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May 1, 2008

Seeking information and ideas on innovative final formats

I have long been troubled by the traditional time-pressured, in-class law school final exam format.  In over a decade of teaching, I have always used a take-home format for my upper-level courses: I will often use a  48-hour format if I want some issue-spotting questions and a two-week format if I want more policy/research questions (and I always have strict word limits for each question).

In first-year classes, however, the use of non-traditional exam formats seems to create added stress for students and also creates some additional administrative headaches.  For this reason, I have traditionally used the standard in-class final exam formats for first-year classes (though I have been noticing some colleagues gravitating toward the one-day, eight-hour take home format for more and more 1L classes).

Never content to make things easy, this term in my Spring 1L Legislation course, I decided to try a combined take-home/in-class format (details here).  Though I do not yet know if my students liked this approach (perhaps they will tell me here), I do know that I liked the basic concept of combining the take-home and in-class formats for 1Ls.  I am wondering if anyone else has ever tried this and, more generally, about experiences and ideas concerning truly innovative final formats.

Posted by DAB

May 1, 2008 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink


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Professors who use innovative exam formats usually neglect to consider that a significant percentage of the modern law student has received testing accommodations under the ADA. These accommodations range from readers and scribes (for more obvious ailments) to as much as double the time on exams (for disabilities that are quite easily masked in normal settings). When you change from the traditional in-class format, your 8 hour exam becomes 16 for them (or a month if it's two weeks). That might work OK, but it could be awful. Readers and scribes can't be there for extended periods and those students just suffer. Unusually long time periods actually produce more stress and problems because the speed stress is replaced by the endurance stress. Doesn't mean you can't use these alternative formats, but you might speak to your Assistant Dean for Students to see just how pervasive accommodations are at your school. You may be projecting your own test-taking anxieties and sensibilities on a student population that has developed very different needs and concerns over the last decade. Just something to take into account.

Posted by: Anon | May 2, 2008 5:15:53 PM

Great point, Anon, but it begs the larger question of whether faculty (1) can/should tailor an exam to that "significant percentage of the modern law student [that] has received testing accommodations under the ADA," and (2) if all the ADA accommodation is a legitimate consideration for legal employers (who are the true "consumers" of testing/grading realities.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 3, 2008 4:31:56 PM

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