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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Prof. Bush on Grading

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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University of Houston Law Center Law Prof. Darren Bush has a new post on the UH Law Prof Blog, On Grading. Some highlights:

The difficulty with grading is not with the administering of the final exam, but rather how students and faculty perceive the discourse on grades. The discussions about grades can frequently be confrontational and accusatory. I once had to take a physically defensive stance when an undergraduate student, seeking to get in to business school, became physically threatening over an A-. Another student, at a different law school, called me a name that rhymes with “stick.” These weren’t professional discussions, they were accusations that I was an evil professor who was gravely mistaken about the quality of the exam answer they had put forth.

These conversations are almost never productive if one enters them with the idea that you are somehow going to convince the professor to change your grade. Unless a mistake has been made in the math, it’s going to stick. It is worth asking how you might improve – some professors give better advice on this than others.

Students probably have come to suspect that professors do not all grade alike. I believe that is entirely true. But that does not mean the grading is arbitrary. All professors, like your future bosses in law firms and elsewhere, have different experiences and priorities.

Professor ought to communicate to you what we expect on the exam prior to your taking it. Professors should make clear what they expect in an exam answer before the exam takes place. Some like to have issue spotting questions. Others like depth of analysis. Others stick to multiple choice. My chosen exam technique mirrors how my areas of law are practiced We professors are looking for the same things in different ways: That you understand what facts are relevant, what law is relevant, and the policies behind the law. The implementation differs, but our goals are the same.

One particular phenomena I’ve noted in law school exams – if you walk out thinking you’ve aced it, it’s just as likely you haven’t. Easy exams mean compressed curves and you would do well to distrust them. Law school exams are about ‘outrunning the bear’ – you don’t have to be faster than the bear, just faster than the guy next to you. You would be surprised how fast that guy turns out to be when there’s a bear chasing you.

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