May 5, 2006

Exam written.

Do law students know (or believe) that we lawprofs mean for the exam to be a rewarding educational experience?

UPDATE: In the comments, lots of students and former students express the disbelief I expected, though there are concessions that an occasional exam seemed to fit my description. Sneaking Suspicions gives his perspective here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jonathan Adler has picked up my question, so the conversation continues in the comments over on Volokh Conspiracy. And Rick Garnett has done the same at Prawfsblawg. I wonder how many of these commenters are students who should be studying for their exams. Many of them sound rather grumpy about the whole notion of finding the intrinsic value in exam-taking. No, no, it's torture. Just leave me alone with my vision of law school as torture. Well, would it help if I told you that if you could find the place in your head where exam-taking is a rewarding experience, you'd get a better grade?

76 comments:

jeff said...

I'm not a law student, but I'd hope that we'd have all the educational experiences prior to the exam.

The exam isn't supposed to be an educational experience, it's supposed to test how well you processed and remember the educational experiences it covers.

Michael said...

As a law student, I recognize that some professors purposefully write their tests in a rewarding way. A way that makes the student reflect on the class and make connections. Basically, the professor is leading the student on an intellectual exercise.

I do believe, however, that there are professors whose sole idea concerning the test is to cause misery for everyone.

For example, I have yet to find any five hour test a rewarding experience.

tjl said...

Michael:
"For example, I have yet to find any five hour test a rewarding experience."

Just wait until you take the bar exam.

faster said...

Almost every professor's goal when writing exams is to make grading as easy as possible for themselves, since it's the worst part of their job. So they put a few issues on there that only 10% of the class will get, and those are the A's. And I don't have a problem with that; like the first commenter said the exam is not a teaching tool it's a testing tool. If law schools were truly interested in using exams as learning tools, they would have several exams throughout the semester, thus giving the students feedback. But I suppose that would break with tradition, and we just don't do that in the legal profession.

MMF said...

A quick lunch group poll of 2 and 3L's, unanimous answer: Not at all.

At best we see an exam as a fair attempt to assess how much of the course material you've mastered well enough to apply to a new question. At worst, and this is especially applicable to the 24-48 hour take-home exams, it's an endurance test of how much you know plus how much time you are willing to steal from the rest of your life to boost your grade. Think of the impact on the curve when someone else actually spends 18 hours on a test that you did in 5!

Maxine Weiss said...

Define "rewarding".

Uh oh.

There's your problem. You've got an audience who has one thing on their minds $$$$$$$$.

You don't want to hear that.

If you want students to lie to you---if you need to hear that they are there ONLY for personal enrichment, interpersonal growth Hahahahahah----sure they'll tell you that, if they think it will curry favor and get them a better grade.

We all know there's only one reason why anybody would bother with law school, or med school, or MBA.....

Prof: Why are you here???
Student: Duh.

-----would that students were allowed to be honest....

It's not about education, it's about standardization, which = $$$$$$ and security.

Peace, Maxine

Maxine Weiss said...

Required Reading: "The Closing of American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students"----by Allan Bloom

He's a Republican, or was. He was an economist, a consultant to both the Reagan and Bush (Senior) administrations.

You must read that book. And, he's got a chapter in there on Graduate and professional schools. Says they are completely unnecessary. He says that what law schools claim to be the Socratic method.....is not Socratic at all!

I'm just the messenger, this is all Allan Bloom.

And he was right as more and more of the public embraces distance learning and apprenticeships. Sitting in the classoom is going the way of the phonograph, or the 8-track.

I'm sorry, Ann. I really am. You're a survivor. By that time, you'll have expanded this blog and makin' turning a profit, in spite of yourself!

Peace, Maxine

Dave said...

Maxine is saying some interesting things about education.

Undergraduate and professional schools will soon, I think, face a day of reckoning, in which their costs are considered too high.

I predict that a decade or so hence, universities will face a situation not dissimilar to that currently being experienced by the auto and airline industries. Universities will undergo massive restructuring, aligning themselves, albeit rather later than sooner, with the knowledge economy. The august citadel of intellect will come to mean nothing more than historical artifact.

Look for professional organizations to create study materials and get their product into the hands of consumer (students) far more cheaply than is done by universities today. This has already happened, to some extent, in finance where, for example, the CFA designation is generally thought to be at once more prestigious than, and significantly cheaper than, a traditional MBA.

Just my two cents.

reader_iam said...

Are law exams supposed to be more rewarding an educational experience than exams of any other type?

Please, Ann, just tell me that you don't come in class on exam day gleefully rubbing your hands (I'm pretty sure you don't wear academic robes), chuckling and asking, "Reaaaadddyyy, sports fans????" and then adding something like, "It's time to reward the good and punish the wicked."

I had a history prof like that.

Truly said...

Maybe that's true for you, Prof. A, but I doubt you could say the same for the rest of your colleagues. That old gag about determining grades by throwing the bluebooks down the stairs didn't appear in a vacuum, after all.

My first year property exam: a 24-hour take-home, the instructions to which specifically told us to ONLY answer the questions raised by the fact pattern. Don't vomit up everything you think I want to know about property law, the professor wrote. So, most of us wrote concise answers in conformity with his instructions.

Who made the highest grade in the class? The one who wrote the 40-page answer, that's who.

Exams are a mind game, part of the lawyer initiation process.

Balfegor said...

It's not about education, it's about standardization, which = $$$$$$ and security.

Pish-posh. I went to law school because when I was born, the family's old sooth-sayer did her thing, and determined that my fate was to become a lawyer.

I am not joking.

Maxine Weiss said...

Truly: ---I'll tell ya how it's done. It's not conformity. You don't hold up a mirror, you make inferences. 1. Write the word "inference" in all caps, followed by colon.
2. And then, write an entirely new story, keeping it in the form of an IRAC (Wow, where'd I learn that?) Remember what Ann was saying: Law Profs are fine arts majors, they aren't Poli Sci majors any more....which means you get points for creativity and artistry.

Also, not 40 pages, 10-20, but even that's excessive. Edit. Prune the deadwood.

---A complete waste of time. All of this could be taught on-the-job at the firms themselves. And no tuition needed.....they pay you. Doesn't that sound like a better bargain?

Mark my words: Today's generation of homeschoolers, and cost-conscious parents are not going to take much more of this drudgery.

Peace, Maxine

Seven Machos said...

Law schools exams were difficult for me, and my grades were all over the place with no real correlation between time spent studying and grade received.

I would suggest that law school is about process, which is appropriate because law is process.

I learned how to write a law exam by about the third semester, and it's totally different than a regular test. Law school professors don't tell you much about these differences. The fact that they throw you to the wolves in this regard is frustrating. At the same time, as I say, law and law school are processes and the process I underwent during three years of law school is something I would not trade the world for. I mean that. The world.

Maxine Weiss said...

It's a bad deal all around.

1. Law school has nothing to do with passing the Bar, you still have to take the special Bar Prep, and even then....who knows?

2. You won't get into any of the blue-chip firms unless you are top-ten or better. Nowadays, I think it's top-5 or better.

Bad bargain. At least with the MBA, you can salvage something, and do a little bit more with it.

Me said...

I always hope the "a-ha" moment occurs at some point before the exam.

It is nice, though, to see an exam that really goes to the heart of the class topic.

Balfegor said...

Re: Maxine:

It's a bad deal all around.

I pretty much agree, if your objective is money and you only go to a mid-ranked school. As it is, though, it's a hoop the ABA and most state bars make you jump through.

1. Law school has nothing to do with passing the Bar, you still have to take the special Bar Prep, and even then....who knows?

I concur.

2. You won't get into any of the blue-chip firms unless you are top-ten or better. Nowadays, I think it's top-5 or better.

I do not concur. Or maybe I do, depending on what you mean by "blue-chip firm." If you just mean one of the megafirms, with the six figure starting salaries, I do not concur -- I know people who got into big firms from schools in the top-20, some probably even lower, rather than even the top-10. On the other hand, my sense is that for people below the top-10, recruitment is much more concentrated on regional offices, and a top-5 degree carries across geographic zones far, far better (i.e. you can study in NYC and get a job in LA, or study at Stanford and get a job in Boston, etc.)

Bad bargain.

Depends where you go and what you want to do with it. If you are burdened by college debt and get into Harvard, say, you can probably pay back your debts on a better time-frame coming out of law school than you could on your average liberal arts graduate salary. You come out ahead -- good deal, I say. On the other hand, your prospects are constricted with a mid-rank school, and your debt is probably just a bad. State schools can correct for this somewhat though -- I recall that Berkeley would have been much cheaper than where I ultimately went, only there had recently been a lot of news about the bigotry and Judenhass in that part of the country, and I opted for elsewhere.

Me said...

Maxine - actually, in Wisconsin, it does. If you want to practice in Wisconsin and you fulfill certain requirements, you can gain admission to the state bar via the diploma privilege.

Brendan said...

It's probably no more rewarding than the SAT is rewarding to 17-year-olds. It's a white-knuckle ride meant to separate the elite from the average.

Mathew said...

The only thing rewarding about a law school exam is walking out of the room afterword and forgetting it ever happened.

Balfegor, I think Maxine was referencing the top 5 or 10 percent of the class. A top 5 percenter at a mid-level law school should be able to easily out earn a 50 percenter from Harvard.

faster said...

With regard to universities disappearing, there was an article on SSRN from the Dean of New York Law School a while back on this topic. He basically concluded that public universities and the top private universities aren't going anywhere anytime soon. The ones in trouble are the mid-to-lower tier private schools (like NYLS). Degrees from Harvard and UNC are still well worth the money they respectively charge.

Seven Machos said...

I don't think it's true about the top 10 percent getting good jobs. I proudly attended a "second-tier" law school, and many of my friends work or once worked at definitively blue-chip law firms.

It's a sliding scale. At my school, probably the top 30 percent are eligible for the Big Firm jobs. At a school like Yale, it's probably closer to 100 percent. At a school like, say, Drake in Iowa, it's probably the top 10 percent.

Interestingly, my wife still works at one of the biggest firms in the country. (She did much better on law school exams, and studied a lot more.) She says that a lot of the people who come out the best law schools don't fare well in Big Firm life because they just aren't used to working so hard. Meanwhile, the one person who they hired from the University of Toledo is a superstar associate because she absolutely outworks everyone.

Balfegor said...

Balfegor, I think Maxine was referencing the top 5 or 10 percent of the class. A top 5 percenter at a mid-level law school should be able to easily out earn a 50 percenter from Harvard.

What about Yale (cf. Seven Machos)? No class ranks there.

TWM said...

Thank goodness I chose to go to Officers Training Scool and then to grad school. You guys make law school sound depressing.

TWM said...

Naturally, that would be Officers Training School, not scool. Although it was cool.

Maxine Weiss said...

Wisconson is different. Maybe things are different in Chicago and Wisconson----the Midwest.

It's a nightmare in California.

Climate is good, though. C'mon down.

Peace, Maxine

Balfegor said...

Balfegor, I think Maxine was referencing the top 5 or 10 percent of the class. A top 5 percenter at a mid-level law school should be able to easily out earn a 50 percenter from Harvard.

Now that I think about it, probably the reason I didn't leap to this class-rank interpretation, but was certain it was about law-school rank, is simply that at top schools, much more than 50% end up going on to the megafirms (or have the option, and pass it up for government work or the like). I don't have much basis, other than personal experience and anecdote to work on, but I'd guess 70% or more of my class (in a top-5 school) went down that path.

A lot of them plan to change jobs after two or three years, others after five or so. A lot of them go in expecting to do precisely that -- some of it may be that they are unused to working hard, as Machos says, but a lot of it is simply that they never intended to stay in it for the long haul. They want to pay off a significant chunk of their student debt, make a few connections, get the kind of training opportunities you can get at a big firm, and then use all that to move onto a smaller "lifestyle" firm, or possibly move out of the field entirely.

If you're coming out at the top of a higher-level mid-tier school, like the top 20 or 30, I think you probably compete with the topmost schools' graduates on a comparable, if still inequal basis. But as you move down the hierarchy, my sense is that you need to do a lot more to get noticed. You don't get the automatic on-campus interview working for you, you're less likely to have people at the school who can work to get you in, and you're less likely to have loyal alumni of your school sitting on the hiring committee.

Balfegor said...

But back to law school exams! I have had the ah-hah moment come in the middle of an exam. I have also had it come after the exam. Alas.

Seven Machos said...

Alright, let's talk about law school exams. One important thing I finally figured out mid-law school, and this may seem obvious, is that you should definitely consider things that did NOT happen in the fact pattern.

Here's a simple example. A gives B a loan at 10 percent interest on a tax exam. This is NOT a low-interest loan because, what with current interest rates, it appears to be a high-interest loan. I'm pretty sure saying that bumped me up a grade on an exam. I would never have thought to say it for the first two semesters.

These are the kinds of things I wish someone would have told me.

Maxine Weiss said...

We ARE talking about exams. In Ann's original post she uses the word "rewarding". Freudian slip?

I take that to mean reward on the investment of time and money---lotsa money put forth.

The educational experience itself, of the exam, wouldn't seem to yield the kinds of rewards that students are looking for namely, $$$$$$ and job security....given the tearing of hair out and worries about rank/tier.

In fact, in California, law students, I've observed are a might resentful...going by the suicide rate pre-exam, among other factors.

Peace, Maxine

Maxine Weiss said...

Hey Ann:

If you knew you had emotionally unstable students on hand, and there'd been lots of suicides lately.....would you consider making things easier for your students?

Any way for your students to guilt you into letting 'em slide?

Guilt has its uses.

Peace, Maxine

Patrick Martin said...

As a lawyer and son of a law professor, Ann, I say: "Yeah, right..."

Actually, my dad always tried to make his exams at least interesting. I can plot the track of my and my siblings' lives and interests by reading his old exams. When my sister watched the Muppet Movie incessantly, dad had questions involving Kermit and Miss Piggy and across-the-country journeys. When she watched Wizard of Oz, he asked contracts questions about the Wizard sending them out on a dangerous tasks and then reneging on his commitment. When he bought horses, there were horse questions, then came guitars, then scuba diving.

And apparently my young life provided ENDLESS examples (which, I'm told, he regularly uses in class) of real life contract issues.

Oh, yeah. Law exams are such rewarding experiences...

Joe said...

One funny anecdote from law school exams - we had a former Navy pilot in our class. Before one exam a fellow student asked him if he was nervous. His reply - "exams don't make me nervous. Landing on a carrier at night in a storm makes me nervous."
I believe this is known as "the right stuff."

ada47 said...

I'm not a law professor, but I just finished giving an exam. I don't have much time to grade it, so I put A LOT of time into making an exam that is thought provoking, test the ability to bring together a number of concepts, relies on factual recall only to illustrate those concepts, and is easy for me to grade. It was damn hard to make up-it took me several days or working and reworking questions, and anticipating the wacked-out possibilities for wrong answers to misunderstood questions. And I imposed sentence limits (in THREE sentences or fewer, explain...).

I don't know about the students, but I sure found making up that exam an educational and rewarding experience. Damn near killed me, though.

But grading is a breeze.

ada47 said...

hey Joe, about your post:
"One funny anecdote from law school exams - we had a former Navy pilot in our class. Before one exam a fellow student asked him if he was nervous. His reply - "exams don't make me nervous. Landing on a carrier at night in a storm makes me nervous."
I believe this is known as "the right stuff."

That's a great example of why elite universities need to wake up and let ROTC back on campus! I'd love to have men and women like that guy in my classroom.

twwren said...

Coincidentally, I was just thinking how a written test for a drivers license (as opposed to a license to practice law, or its precurser, a law school exam)is a rewarding educational experience.

Ann Althouse said...

jeff "I'm not a law student, but I'd hope that we'd have all the educational experiences prior to the exam. The exam isn't supposed to be an educational experience, it's supposed to test how well you processed and remember the educational experiences it covers."

I could not disagree more. How could there ever be an end to learning about constitutional law? I've been studying the subject for more than a quarter of a century and still learning new things all the time. The first year law students after one semester are supposed to have it all down? Impossible! Absurd! The exam gives students a chance to process and practice the things they've begun to grasp. Writing about a problem is always a learning experience. If I write a law review article, it's a learning experience. What kind of an impoverished topic does not admit to more learning? Thank God it's not my lot in life to teach such a thing.

CM said...

Is it true that most law profs want the exam to be rewarding?

My impression is that most of my professors this year have seen the exam as a necessary evil. Judging from what they've told us about how they grade, I agree with other posters that it seems like they try to come up with questions that will separate us into more easily discernable categories, but not necessarily the most thought-provoking questions.

To me, exams serve the purpose of making you review the entire semester and put all the pieces together. That's the studying part. Taking the exam isn't particularly rewarding because you rarely have enough time to think through your answers. I don't understand why class participation and preparation during the semester don't count for anything.

Ann Althouse said...

Maxine Weiss "If you knew you had emotionally unstable students on hand, and there'd been lots of suicides lately.....would you consider making things easier for your students? Any way for your students to guilt you into letting 'em slide?"

I don't get it. Our exams are curved. It's the too-easy exam that should worry the student. In any case, my questions aren't that hard on the surface, they just provide opportunities for students who have intellectually engaged with the subject.

I try to write a fair exam that resembles the class discussions. I want to find the students who seriously engaged with the discussions we had on a daily basis. The exam is one more chance to engage. The students who have cared about doing that are the ones I want to get the best grades. I try to write an exam that will make that happen.

faster said...

Ann, if it's true that exams are a learning experience, why aren't there more of them during the semester? I don't get much out of a white knuckle three hour long carpel tunel inducing final myself, however well-crafted it may be.

Ann Althouse said...

Morningview: The easy answer is that we don't have TAs to do the grading.

faster said...

Unfortunately, I'm still unwilling to accept the premise that exams help you learn the law in the first place, so it doesn't matter to me personally whether there's one or more exams. I would say that multiple exams would give a more accurate assessement of students' knowledge to the professor, however.

In my opinion, exams teach you not about the law so much, but about the professor, and what makes them tick. Just as Supreme Court briefs are tailored to the different Justices as much as they are to the law, students must tailor their exams to the professors.

stealthlawprof said...

My hope is that the exam is a rewarding experience. Grading, alas, is a necessary evil. But the exam itself should be rewarding.

In a perfect world, I could sit down with all the students in small groups and go over each question, discussing all the possibilities. It is not feasible. Nonetheless, I would hope that the student who prepares well has a real sense of seeing the course come together through the exam. That was my experience as a student, when I prepared well -- which may explain why I do (and enjoy doing) what I do.

Dave said...

Regarding my comments above, which someone apparently took to mean that I think universities will disappear: that's not my argument.

My argumnent is that universities, as currently organized, have become bloated and expensive, and, at some point, most universities (if not all) will face the problem of students and their parents balking at the high prices charged, and will seek out better returns on invested capital.

This happened in the auto industry with the advent of Japan's entry into the US market, and it is currently happening in the airline industry. Merely because academia likes to think of itself as free from the pressures of the competitive market does not mean that academia is free of those pressures.

Academia, as with all other institutions, has to compete for scarce capital. Entities that can give consumers (students) the same education as traditional academies, while charging less, will prosper in the coming decades. Academia will stultify unless it radically reorganizes itself.

I don't mean to argue that this change will happen immediately, or that universities will disappear. I do mean to argue, however, that academics have to start thinking of their product in terms of the return on capital invested by their consumers. Otherwise they will find themselves in a declining industry.

nunzio said...

I actually agree with the professor, here. The better law school exams are learning experiences, with thought-provoking questions without definitive answers.

I thought the bar exam essays were disappointing b/c they only looked for right/wrong answers, though the people grading them probably needed a definitive answer key.

lawgrad05 said...

I'm not given to flattery but your Fed Jur exam last year was one of the most enjoyable exams I've ever taken. I love exams that let you pull together the threads from the whole semester to create something unified.

Ann Althouse said...

Lawgrad: Thanks!

Richard Fagin said...

My experience with law school exams was that they were most definitely NOT learning experiences. They were exercises in how well the student could identify substantive claims from the facts presented, how well the student could recite the elements of the substantive claim, and how well the student could identify from the fact presented which elements of the claim were, and were arguably not present. I concluded that "A" answers do not require depth of analysis but require at least superficially reciting each element as it is set forth in the case law and briefly stating whether the fact establish or do not esatblish each element. I ended up near the bottom of my class after first year because I was not perceptive enough to figure this out. After some clear and concise guidance from my con law prof. (may he enjoy his retirement), I was able to turn things around. I was astonished at how well the foregoing formula worked from professor to professor - then it dawned on me - a good law school exam answer is much like a well written legal opinion, only you don't get to search the case law, you have to know the doctrine cold! Prof. Althouse, your exams may be learning expreiences for you, but I wouldn't be so sure about your students.

faster said...

Professor, perhaps I just haven't had the opportunity to take a "good" exam yet. I think my Civ Pro exam might have come close - it really made us see the "seamless web" of the Rules. Unfortunately I do not attend Wisconsin so I'll probably never get to take one of yours.

Richard Fagin said...

Oh, yeah, Maxine: I was a top 5, but the blue chips wouldn't even talk to me at ON CAMPUS interviews. I had more than one incident of the school placement department setting up an interview at their suggestion only to be called back with a "never mind" because the firm wasn't interested. Don't start law school at age 39 expecting anything. Of course, bombastic profs arent't the least bit scary at that age, you just kind of laugh at them when you already make more money than they do.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Most exams I've taken have been regurgitation exercises. A couple exams were joyful, synthesis experiences. It happened once in law school.

After law school, I attended JAG Corps Basic for 10 weeks. They had a much more straight-forward teaching style and the exams were, too. But I came out of JAG School feeling like I knew something.

Jump school was another learning style all together. Completing that "exam" [5th jump from an aircraft while in flight] was positively euphoric.

Elizabeth said...

I had a fulfilling moment this semester on receiving a take-home midterm returned via email, with the message: "Wonderfully thought-provoking questions; I had trouble staying anywhere near the word-limits." I had spent quite some time trying to make a good exam that prompted students to work with the literature we'd read, and not focus on information, so this was a nice reward.

But now, this topic has made me all anxious. I went to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival today when I should have been writing a final exam. Doh! Now my brain is all sunfried and beer-fuzzy. The exam will wait until tomorrow.

Ann Althouse said...

Richard Fagin: You're assuming I write fact pattern exams, but (except in Civpro2) I don't.

Simon said...

"There's your problem. You've got an audience who has one thing on their minds $$$$$$$$."

I think that would be very said if it is accurate. Understandable, to be sure; law school isn't cheap, and anyone who doesn't have access to unlimited money who hasn't given serious thought before undertaking it as to recoup the money is, frankly, too stupid to be admitted.

I have to admit that I've been giving very serious thought to the idea of going back to law school, but the reason I'd go is not to make money, but because the older I get, and the more judicial opinions and the more legal scholarship I read, the more I think that there are seriously problems which require people committed to formalism to be teaching law, and since to teach requires a J.D., that means school. You might not ever get rich, in public service, but let me tell you, it's better than digging a ditch.

Patrick Martin said...

One of my law professors once commented that students are the only consumers in the world who want LESS for their money. Obviously, we had asked if we HAD to know that for the exam one too many times...

John Jenkins said...

How could there ever be an end to learning about constitutional law?

The end of learning about constitutional law occurs at approximately the same time you figure out that they are making things up that suit their preferences and then cloaking it in doctrine. See Smith ("we have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate."(basically denying Sherbert ever happened, while "distinguishing" Sherbert & Yoder)).

Ann Althouse said...

John Jenkins said..."The end of learning about constitutional law occurs at approximately the same time you figure out that they are making things up that suit their preferences and then cloaking it in doctrine."

How is that the end for someone who wants to understand what is happening and to function in arguing to judges? That's like saying learning about psychology ends at the point when you realize that human beings do not reveal everything they think and feel. You've stated a jejune insight that is merely at point at which one realizes how difficult the study of the topic is going to be. If you bail out because it's too complex for you, it surely doesn't mean there's nothing left to learn.

MrsWhatsit said...

Most of the exams I took in law school are best forgotten forever, but I did take one that was a genuine learning experience. It was a "Remedies" exam, and I can recite the entire examination for you, word for word, right here:

Discuss the role of punishment in equity.

The entire class was aghast when we opened the exam. There were moans and hisses and catcalls all over the room. But answering that question made me think about every significant point we had covered in that class, relate them all to one another, and write about them as a complex but coherent single idea, rather than as a regurgitated outline. I know this unmasks me forever as an unreconstructed geek -- but it was fun.

Balfegor said...

Discuss the role of punishment in equity.

That has to be the best law exam ever. Haha. Re: Equity, though, that's something I really feel I don't understand as well as I would like. It's always just hovered around as a bunch of maxims about clean-hands and regarding as done things that ought to be done and whatnot, and the precise historical evolution remains obscure to me. Cramming on Remedies for the bar gave more data, but not much more context or understanding.

Equity and Agency -- those are two subjects I'd like to have studied in law school. Ah well.

Joe said...

My Crim Law exam was the following:
"All criminal laws have been repealed and replaced by one statute: do good, avoid evil. Discuss."
I had a ball - most hated it.

Simon said...

"All criminal laws have been repealed and replaced by one statute: do good, avoid evil. Discuss."

I'd have stood up and asked if I was in the right building, because I signed up for a law class, not philosophy.

Ann Althouse said...

"Discuss the role of punishment in equity."

"All criminal laws have been repealed and replaced by one statute: do good, avoid evil. Discuss."

Wow. I never knew writing an exam could be so easy! Just a one-liner, eh? I've never seen a law school exam like that. Those look like college essay questions.

John Jenkins said...

If you bail out because it's too complex for you, it surely doesn't mean there's nothing left to learn. Nice attempt at being insulting, but you're missing my point. It's not that there's nothing to learn, it's that what there is to learn isn't law. It's psychology, maybe. You no longer look to precedent to see what should happen, but you look to who is sitting to see what will happen.

My favorite Civ Pro question: What is the most famous diversity suit in American law and who wrote the opinion? (only because I was the only person in my class who could answer it: sadly it was in class and not on the exam).

Joe said...

Simon, funny you should say that, the prof had a doctorate in philosophy.

AlaskaJack said...

How's this for a rewarding law school exam question?

Pre-exam instructions: There will be a question on Romer v. Evans. Study this decision well, including the dissent. You may bring a copy of the decision to the exam.

Question: a) Re-state, in your own words, and as clearly and as objectively as you can, all of J. Scalia's counter-arguments to the majority's decision. b) Critically analyze J. Scalia's counter-arguments and draft your own argument establishing the conclusion that his objections are persuasive or are not persuasive.

Maxine Weiss said...

Remember the bomb threats? Right when the exam is beginning to start...whoops.....it's a bomb threat.....evacuate the building!

I'm pretty sure those fake bomb threats were staged to weed out the cheaters, (not that you could cheat on a blue book, or could you?). I went to school in California, we had all sorts of weirded out things like that.

I've been told through the grapevine that the Administration would simply stage fake bomb threats to throw off the curve and add variety to the test-taking process ie.....you'd still have to write...but outside under a tree..

In other words: Could students perform under changing environmental pressures.

Performance under pressure----that was part of the test. Or, a fire alarm, or something like that....just to throw off the balance and see if it changes the results. Dumb.

Stupid. Yet, is IS all about performance.

Nothing like a good fire drill.

Peace, Maxine

Trevor said...

An exam can be a rewarding experience in itself. That said, I'm likely to roll my eyes when a professor claims to have written such an exam. They're very rare, and I believe it only when I see it.

I translate "I want you to engage with this exam" into "I want you to discuss my pet theories in your answer." THis isn't too different from "only" testing doctrine, it's just a different form of regurgitation.

Jonathan said...

Maxine:

You are wrong in almost every assertion you made about Allan Bloom:

"He's a Republican, or was."

Actually he was a registered Democrat. He was a neoconservative, and were he alive today, probably would be a Republican, but was a registered Democrat nonetheless.


"He was an economist,"

No he wasn't. He was a professor of political philosophy.

"a consultant to both the Reagan and Bush (Senior) administrations."

Again, while many of his students may have worked in both administrations, and in the present Bush administration, Bloom had no official connection with either the Reagan or Bush administrations.

"And, he's got a chapter in there on Graduate and professional schools. Says they are completely unnecessary."

That's a big overstatement. Bloom realized the need for businessmen and attorneys, and hence did not think such graduate degrees were useless. Rather, he lamented how these degrees were elevated above the humanities studies. Yet, the humanities were in such a state of disarray because of their own intellectual decline. So it was the fault of the humanities that people were taking the MBAs and JDs more seriously.

Though Bloom did point out that if all you care about is training for a profession you don't need to spend 4 years for an undergraduate degree and then another few for a graduate degree. If all you care about is utility, it could be done in less time.

"He says that what law schools claim to be the Socratic method.....is not Socratic at all!"

I don't remember him talking about this; I could be wrong though.

myalterego said...

Let's look back at the original post - that law profs intend the exams to be rewarding. I don't know whether that's true (i.e. the subjective intent of the profs is not always easy to discern), but if we assume that all law profs do intend to make exams a rewarding experience, most fail. Why? Because most write regurgitation exams aka "law dumps." I did have a small number of exams that I would call stimulating - perhaps rewarding - but generally those felt like extensions of the class. A stimulating exam required serious analytical thought rather than traditional issue spotting. By and large, the exams that required that critical thought were in cases where the professor sought the same critical thought in class.

And one thought on the previous comments about the bar exam, which also applies to the "law dump" exams in school - they don't really do much to advance your talent as a lawyer. The experiences from law school that helped my lawyering most were the clinical-type courses (trial practice, civil motions practice, appellate advocacy). Knowing substantive law and being able to research and analyze substantive law is important for making tactical decisions as a litigator, but law school tends to ignore strategic issues that are tough to teach from a book. I wonder if there is a way to remedy that?

Joe V said...

ok, I'll bite. What was the most famous diversity case?

Simon said...

Joe said...
"Simon, funny you should say that, the prof had a doctorate in philosophy."
I am not surprised. There's an old saying: if all you have is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails. It wouldn't surprise me that if you have a philosophy degree, all your endeavours start to approach problems from the point of view of philosophy. His exam question is probably a perfectly good question for a philosophy paper, but I don't think it has much place in a law exam.

MMF said...

Prof. Ann -
How about an example of an actual question from an old exam that demonstrates what kind of exam you are talking about?

AlaskaJack said...

In defense of philosophy, a philosophical question is exactly the kind of question you are likely get in an argument before the US Supreme Court.

Mike said...

I'm a medical student who just finished taking my first set of boards. I did thousands of practice questions most of which I found interesting and educational, but I can't imagine any actual graded test being rewarding. When you actually take the test you have all the stress in the world, and you can't review it until weeks or months later if at all. I don't doubt that some professors try to make their exams rewarding, but why would anyone expect students to see things the same way? The students are coming from a completely differnt perspective that makes it impossible to see things the same way.

Reinhold Messner said...

Just leave me alone with my vision that a three hour exam is a true measure of how much students have learned just because that's how it's always been.

Balfegor said...

"Discuss the role of punishment in equity."

"All criminal laws have been repealed and replaced by one statute: do good, avoid evil. Discuss."

Wow. I never knew writing an exam could be so easy! Just a one-liner, eh?


I'd imagine it makes up for ease-of-creation on the grading end. At any rate, since a nontrivial proportion of law students are basically going to be regurgitating their entire class-outline anyhow, no matter what questions get asked, it seems reasonable to let them do that, and just make them perform their regurgitation according to some organising principle.

Maxine Weiss said...

Jonathan: About Allan Bloom--- I'm reading "Ravelstein" right now, it's kind of a biography/memoir on Allan Bloom. He absolutely was an advisor to the Reagan/Bush administrations. Not in an official sense, but Cabinet Members, --his former students-- would call him up and give him briefs, early, before stuff reached the public.

He was into philosophy but he studied Keynes---who was a German economist.

Allan Bloom definitely had a negative view of higher education. The only higher education and graduate schools he approved of were those in the hard sciences and Engineering.

He was a really fascinating man, and had the ear of two Republican presidents. Didn't create policy, but was certainly consulted, even if unofficially.

Peace, Maxine