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vancity0L

How subjective are law school exams?

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I've been searching online but haven't found a definitive answer. What are law school exams like? are the exams essay based where the grader's opinion has a rather huge influence on the resulting score, or is there a scoring rubric that as long as all the points are hit you get full marks? Does writing style matter much? Are there any multiple choice exams in law school? 

Personally I like classes where there is a set structure where I know the amount of time I put in reading and doing the cases is directly correlated to the grade I get, not a class where the grader just comes up with an arbitrary number like a high school english essay. 

Since law school marks have such a huge influence on eventual job placement I want to make sure that it has a structured grading system that I can potentially do well in before going thru with the application process, it would be greatly appreciated if anyone can link me to a past exam.

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Essay based exams aren't especially common compared to hypothetical style questions, although some profs do include one such question on an exam (generally worth much less than the hypothetical).  Scoring rubrics are very common.  I don't know what you mean when you ask about hitting on all of the points and getting "full marks."  No one ever hits on all of the points.  I've literally never seen it before.  I've never even seen someone come especially close for that matter.  But more importantly, law schools generally have a B curve, so if most students were to hit on most points, they would still get Bs.  Writing style doesn't tend to matter much, although if the writing falls apart too much, then you can cease to make your substantive points clearly, which will affect your grade.  Multiple choice exams are very, very uncommon.  

Just because there is subjectivity doesn't mean that something is "arbitrary".  You might disagree with the way that the marker approaches grading assignments, but their method isn't arbitrary as long as some sort of method was used (as opposed to grades being randomly assigned, for example). 

You cannot "know" that the time you put into readings will be "directly correlated" to your grades, but it has nothing to do with "arbitrariness".  Some people just get things quicker than others, some people work smarter than others, some people are more focused when they read, etc.  I don't think it can really hurt you to spend more time rather than less doing readings (unless you are working so much that you are sleep deprived or something of that nature), but you can't expect it to pay off.  Most of your classmates will be working fairly hard, most of them are smart, and all of you will generally all be on a B curve.  Anecdotally, some of my worst students have been very hard working and some of my best students have been slackers.  It seems quite difficult to predict.    

Regardless of how law school exams are graded, you can't be sure that you will do well.  You will probably end up with a whole bunch of Bs, just like most other people in law school.  That's just the way it goes.

As for wanting to see a past exam, google it.  There are tons online.

Edited by ProfReader
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I'm going to bow to ProfReader in almost all specifics here, because he obviously has a far better knowledge of this than I do. I just want to add that there's a very big difference between exams that feel completely subject and which are completely subjective.

This is a common concern and complaint that I hear from students who are coming from more concrete disciplines such as math, science, etc. Students who are used to the idea that they can guarantee some grade by simply memorizing everything - those students may be badly frustrated in law school. Students from arts disciplines (often the things cited as "easy" in other discussions - and I'll leave that one alone) aren't troubled in the same way. Because we learn early on to deal with the fact that there are no absolutes. But just because the "right" and the "wrong" answer aren't always obviously, doesn't mean there's no such thing as "good" and "bad" work. There is.

Put it another way. When we're talking about the application of laws and legal tests to hypothetical scenarios, two students might reach the same general conclusion but one of them has done so in a very clear and logical way, using the law as it exists, while another has just leapt there with no clear use of the law. One answer is good and the other is bad, no matter the similar conclusions. Two students could also reach opposite conclusions and both answers could be good, for the same reason, or both bad.

Law school exams aren't subjective in the sense that your willingness to agree with the grader's opinions is what matters. It isn't. But it seems badly subjective to students who don't understand what's happening. The law itself seems subjective in the same way - even to my clients. A huge percentage of my clients imagine that any idea is equally arguable just as long as I sound good enough when I say things. It isn't true. The law does have concrete tests, rules, and principles. You use those. When you step outside of how the law works and get into how you think the law should work - that's generally when you are badly off track, unless the question calls for it explicitly.

I hope that helps at least a little. But as the Prof says, subjective or otherwise, you can't guarantee performance in law school.

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Having not yet revived my exam marks I can tell you that they were unlike any exams I had previously writen. Memorizing doesn't help that much. You don't need to have read every single case. You need to be able to spot the issues, organize and present your answer coherently, and argue in the alternative. I studied a lot for property. On the exam, it was focused on a relatively narrow topic (expropriation), and 1/3 of our marks were from 4 multiple choice questions that stemmed from a single reading from September. It was frustrating to not be tested on all this stuff that I had studied but it's the way it goes. This book explains how exams work, but they do vary a bit. When I looked at practice exams in September I was very intimidated and overwhelmed, but when writing them after a semester of class it starts to make sense.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Open-Book-Succeeding-Exams-School/dp/1454806079

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How important is relationship with profs? Does going to profs and asking them for pointers on practice test help with exam performance? 

What type of personality and skill set does the average successful law student possess (in terms of grades) apart from doing all the necessary reading and practice that is required in any discipline?

Also, are course marks usually dependent on one exam? A 100% final seems pretty scary.

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2 hours ago, 420 said:

Having not yet revived my exam marks I can tell you that they were unlike any exams I had previously writen. Memorizing doesn't help that much. You don't need to have read every single case. You need to be able to spot the issues, organize and present your answer coherently, and argue in the alternative. I studied a lot for property. On the exam, it was focused on a relatively narrow topic (expropriation), and 1/3 of our marks were from 4 multiple choice questions that stemmed from a single reading from September. It was frustrating to not be tested on all this stuff that I had studied but it's the way it goes. This book explains how exams work, but they do vary a bit. When I looked at practice exams in September I was very intimidated and overwhelmed, but when writing them after a semester of class it starts to make sense.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Open-Book-Succeeding-Exams-School/dp/1454806079

What school do you go to? That sounds like an absurd exam. 

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3 hours ago, vancity0L said:

How important is relationship with profs? Does going to profs and asking them for pointers on practice test help with exam performance? 

What type of personality and skill set does the average successful law student possess (in terms of grades) apart from doing all the necessary reading and practice that is required in any discipline?

Also, are course marks usually dependent on one exam? A 100% final seems pretty scary.

It might help to go talk to a prof. No one can predict that for you. A relationship with them will not help, though. You can’t network your way to As.

Successful students are just those who write better and understand the issues clearer. I don’t believe number of hours worked correlates to grade outcomes almost at all. 

And schools vary, but in 1L one or two exams is common. 

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8 hours ago, vancity0L said:

How important is relationship with profs? Does going to profs and asking them for pointers on practice test help with exam performance?

Also, are course marks usually dependent on one exam? 

Your first question is very difficult to answer.  It depends on how the student learns, it depends on how well he or she understands the material, it depends on the prof, etc.  It is likely to be at least somewhat helpful.  

At most law schools in Canada, the first year courses generally have a midterm and a final exam.  

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On 12/26/2018 at 3:12 AM, vancity0L said:

I've been searching online but haven't found a definitive answer. What are law school exams like? 

This prof (in my opinion one of the best I ever had in law school) puts up his exams and answer key evey year. This should give you an idea of what law school exams can be like.  Generally they have a few multiple choice followeed but some fact pattern type questions. In my experience every prof has a very detailed rubric for the answers which kind of takes the "subjectively" out of the marking equation (either you got the point or you didn't). 

 

http://jeremydebeer.ca/about/teaching/property/evaluation/exam/ 

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20 minutes ago, TheScientist101 said:

This prof (in my opinion one of the best I ever had in law school)...

This opinion is not widely held; at least, he is a polarizing figure. 

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1 hour ago, TheScientist101 said:

Generally they have a few multiple choice followeed but some fact pattern type questions. 

I know very few people who use multiple choice questions on their exams. I would say that it is very uncommon. However, it is almost always true that exams have one or more fact pattern type questions. Some people will also add a policy type question, although that isn't especially common. You were probably talking about Jeremy's exams specifically, but I just wanted to be clear for the OP but this isn't the norm.

Edited by ProfReader
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14 minutes ago, ProfReader said:

I know very few people who use multiple choice questions on their exams. I would say that it is very uncommon. However, it is almost always true that exams have one or more fact pattern type questions. Some people will also add a policy type question, although that isn't especially common. You were probably talking about Jeremy's exams specifically, but I just wanted to be clear for the OP but this isn't the norm.

Yeah I'm not sure why but a lot of my Profs (particularly in 1L) at Ottawa U used some (or all) multiple choice on their exams (Prof. de Beer, Kerr and Mayeda to name a few). I'm sure it's less common than my experience dictates. 

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13 minutes ago, TheScientist101 said:

Yeah I'm not sure why but a lot of my Profs (particularly in 1L) at Ottawa U used some (or all) multiple choice on their exams (Prof. de Beer, Kerr and Mayeda to name a few). I'm sure it's less common than my experience dictates. 

I know three profs there who don't do it and one who does, but that's not enough to draw any conclusions about.  Perhaps it is more common at Ottawa than other schools because  the 1L class size is quite large relative to other schools, with the exception of the small groups.

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Your responses to fact patterns and policy questions are subjective in the sense that there are no right or wrong answers. Where you fall on the curve depends on how well you make the case for both sides and your analysis of which side is stronger.

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1 hour ago, harveyspecter993 said:

Your responses to fact patterns and policy questions are subjective in the sense that there are no right or wrong answers. 

Oh, there are definitely wrong answers to parts of fact patterns.  

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12 minutes ago, ProfReader said:

Oh, there are definitely wrong answers to parts of fact patterns.  

I mean yeah there's the obvious stuff like misstating the rule or citing the wrong case but that should never happen.

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2 minutes ago, harveyspecter993 said:

I mean yeah there's the obvious stuff like misstating the rule or citing the wrong case but that should never happen.

That happens all the time, or at least my classmates routinely say they misstate rules and cite the wrong cases (or I misstate rules and cite the wrong cases, who knows).

I was also in the position to review midterm examinations this fall for 1Ls and routinely saw students making errors like that. 

I think you're overestimating how well the average law student grasps the law. 

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7 minutes ago, harveyspecter993 said:

I mean yeah there's the obvious stuff like misstating the rule or citing the wrong case but that should never happen.

People get things wrong all the time, and I don't just mean the weaker exams.  People don't so much cite the wrong case, but they very often don't quite understand some nuance in the law correctly and thus misstate it or make errors like apply the wrong subsection of a piece of legislation.

Edited by ProfReader

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23 hours ago, theycancallyouhoju said:

It might help to go talk to a prof. No one can predict that for you. A relationship with them will not help, though. You can’t network your way to As.

Successful students are just those who write better and understand the issues clearer. I don’t believe number of hours worked correlates to grade outcomes almost at all. 

And schools vary, but in 1L one or two exams is common. 

Anything I say is definitely subject to correction from @ProfReader or others (most have been to law school more recently).

As an aside re multiple-choice questions, if done as a choice okay, there can be well-designed multiple-choice exams; but if done not for that reason but because of class sizes, that's ridiculous.

I would quibble somewhat with what your first paragraph, I think knowing a professor in the sense of knowing what they're looking for, can help. So regardless of the opinions of the professor @TheScientist101 and @easttowest were discussing, that the prof explains what they're looking for in such detail is a big plus. Most profs I had I believe valued brevity, but some unfortunately seemed to think that good answers were long. Some profs or instructors I've spoken with socially more recently have said they take marks off for every single grammatical or spelling error, which I told them I thought was ridiculous in an exam context (different for a paper or other assignment where much more time), but if that's what they do and what the law school allows, better to know ahead of time.

I agree with your second paragraph, there's also what I'd call a luck factor, yes, on average better students will do better, but anyone can have a particularly good or bad exam day. [personal anecdotes omitted]

Oh, and one more quibble with your first paragraph, in one course where the prof told us before the last assignment what grade we were running (and from the marks on prior assignments I couldn't get an A in the course) I did persuade him to give me an A, but that was less due to my persuasiveness and more due to, it was a seminar course and giving an extra A wasn't going to throw off the curve because there wasn't one.

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