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February 28, 2009

Will new grading systems really lead law schools away from traditional exams?

The National Law Journal has this piece reviewing the new grading systems that are becoming all the rage at elite law schools.  Here is how the piece begins:

Several leading law schools are retooling their grading policies, with some institutions making major revisions and others merely tweaking their systems. Harvard Law School and Stanford Law School, for example, are switching from the traditional grade and letter policies to pass/fail systems. At the same time, New York University School of Law now allows professors to give more A's. And some institutions, such as Columbia Law School, are reviewing their grading systems to see whether they need updating.

And here is a idea within the piece that really caught my attention:

Stanford Law Dean Larry Kramer said that it's too early to draw conclusions about the new system but that it seems to be working well.... "One, [the new system] conveys more accurate information to employers without diminishing student incentive to work; two, it reduces needless grading anxiety; and three, it encourages faculty to experiment more with evaluative things they do in their classes," Kramer said.  For example, the system allows faculty to use a combination of short-term papers with exams for evaluation, Kramer said.

I find the notion that new grading systems could foster a move away from the traditional law school exam both plausible and appealing.  Indeed, though I have been agnostic in my views about all these grading developments, I will get on the honors/pass/fail grading bandwagon if such a system proves to be a catalyst for moving law schools away from traditional in-class exams.

Posted by DAB

Some related LSI posts:

February 28, 2009 in Grading systems | Permalink


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I taught law school for 44 years and I tried every examination technique I could think of. Far and away, the best exams that I gave were in my course in Federal Jurisdiction. That course was commonly held to be one of the hardest courses in school. The exam handed out the first day class and due the last day of class. There were no limits on resources but there was a 25 typewritten page limit. This came as close as I could come to replicating the kind of work lawyers in Federal Court actually do. I was always amazed at the quality of the work the students did. I used that exam technique for 15 years until I gave up the course to one of my former students who had just come on the faculty following a federal clerkship.

Posted by: winton woods | Sep 7, 2011 7:29:34 PM

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