Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Apologies if this parts of this make no sense to my non-Harvard Law School readers.

“How ‘Bout Some Grades?”

Semester two has started. Only five more sets of finals to go. It’s tough to start a new semester without knowing how we did in the last one. Tough to evaluate our study habits and decide what worked and what didn’t, and how to change it for semester number two. We may not find out until a month into the new semester that our method of reading only every fifth word in the casebook didn’t lead to grades as high as we wished. Or that the “hack into the professor’s computer and steal the model answers” plan went even better than expected and we won’t need to go to class at all this time around. Worst of all, the gunners won’t know if they’re allowed to continue being gunners or if some lackluster grades will shock their confidence and render them powerless to continue raising their hands at speeds never seen before law school.

As much as I keep telling myself I don’t care about my grades – they won’t affect the jobs I can get, I’m confident enough in my abilities that my performance on a couple of exams shouldn’t matter, just getting into law school should be enough validation – I can’t quite fully internalize it. I care. I admit it. But it’s harder to figure out why. Maybe it’s habit. We’ve spent our entire academic lives caring about our grades. But I think there’s more to it than that. Our grades are basically the only feedback we get – our only chance for approval, a proxy for our professors saying, “job well done.” And it’s sort of tough not to want that.

Of course, the flip side of good grades being a proxy for our professors saying “job well done” is that not-so-good grades become a proxy for “job screwed up pretty bad.” And, given the curve and the fact that everyone here is pretty bright to have gotten in here to begin with, that’s probably not really the case. However, law school gives us only one person to blame if we don’t do as well as we might have liked.

The registrar.

It’s the registrar’s fault. Well, the registrar and the rest of the examination bureaucracy. For eight reasons (one for each hour of the take-home exams):

1. I didn’t get my take-home exam until 7 hours and 45 minutes after the rest of my section did because I was at the end of the exam distribution line.
2. I was rushed in copying my identification number onto the cover sheet, did it wrong, began to cry, and the ink ran off the tear-stained pages, spoiling my exam.
3. The proctor tripped and dropped my computer disk down a sewer grate and I had to re-take the exam. (She also broke her hip.)
4. The exam drop-off window closed shut on my wrist, slowing my typing ability by 50%.
5. I relied on the e-mail system to send my exam to myself so that I could print it in the library, but at that very moment, all of our e-mail was erased by a mysterious “system failure” and I had to start over.
6. The fire alarms went off and I “stopped, dropped, and rolled” right over my laptop, erasing the hard drive.
7. The bookstore sold me a replacement ink cartridge filled with invisible ink.
8. My professor determined that my answer to one of the questions was so horribly incorrect that he knew it could only be me who had written it, and therefore I was deemed to have self-identified myself on the exam, and I failed anyway.

Thankfully, exams ended before season 2 of American Idol started. I think they should do a spin-off called “Socratic Method Idol” where law students compete to determine who can most accurately read the professor’s mind. I think the auditions would be quite amusing. Or a Joe Millionaire spin-off called “Joe Highest Grades Prize.” “These twenty-five law firms all think he’s won the Highest Grades Prize, but, in fact, he got a low pass in the first-year lawyering workshop. Boy will they be surprised when he starts work and they discover he can’t write a memo!”

But, of course, that television show can exist only in our minds, because the law firms (and public interest organizations, and district attorney’s offices, and Taco Bell, and anywhere else we might end up working this summer) don’t know our grades yet. Actually, that’s the best reason I’ve come up with for the professors to take their time. Come to think of it, if they take another ten months or so to grade the exams, we won’t have to worry about them at all….