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.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Haven't said much about my spring exams, so I figure today's as good a day as any to talk about those. The biggest thing I noticed was that people seemed a lot less concerned / stressed / intense / insane about spring exams than they had been in the fall. Which I suppose makes sense, since we'd already been through it all once, whereas in the fall it was all brand new, and people had already gotten a set of grades and so probably at least were secure in knowledge that they could pass a law school exam, and that a B wasn't going to kill them. Unless they got an A on everything, in which case they had another reason not to be too concerned -- because they probably had the knack for this sort of thing. In any event, people seemed much more relaxed. Of course, everything is relative, so by "much more relaxed" I mean still pretty insane, but just not as much as in the fall.

Last semester I made nice outlines, which it turned out I didn't really find that useful during the exam, and didn't really feel like making them was so valuable as compared with reading stuff. So no outlines this semester. Instead, I did lots and lots of practice exams. As many as I could fine. And for the ones that didn't have model answers, I did them with people so we could compare answers. Found that to be pretty helpful. Also tried to get my hands on lots of different outlines and find the best pieces of each one. Didn't find that too helpful though. It wasn't that the outlines weren't good, it was just that they didn't really help with putting everything together mentally to make the whole course fit together. All of my exams wee open book. I find studying for open book exams to be really frustrating because you don't need to memorize anything, and memorizing stuff doesn't matter anyway. You just need to make sure you understand stuff well enough to be able to play around with it and wrap your head around whatever questions the professor makes up. I found it useful in the fall for contracts to write out my own "story of contracts," trying to fit everything together into one cohesive package. I did something similar for property this semester, but just based on the exam styles of the different professors, didn't find it to be as useful. I think it's important to have something written out that lists everything you covered in the course so that when writing an essay or trying to spot issues, you can go down the list quickly and see if anything fits. Just a 1-2 page issue sheet, with some keywords to remind of important concepts, units, cases, etc. That was probably the most useful.

It's really frustrating, when the exam is 100% of the grade, to have exams that seem poorly designed for measuring knowledge and understanding. Easy or hard, doesn't matter, I feel a little angry when the exam isn't testing what I think it ought to be testing -- when it's too vague to know what the professor is really looking for, or when it's too specific to really force you to apply concepts. I imagine it's really hard to come up with good exams from a professor point of view, but I would guess that while grading it quickly becomes clear whether the exam was good and the answers are all on target but still differentiable, as opposed to when they're all the same because it was too easy or too right-out-of-the-book, or there's such a variation that it's clear that some people who probably had a decent enough understanding of the course just missed the boat and didn't go in the direction it was expected they'd go in, or missed the key concepts, not because they didn't understand the material but because the question was vague or unclear or just badly thought-out. I also think there should be a permanent moratorium placed on professors making any comments about grading being random, arbitrary, vague, hard, or anything else like that. Even if it's true, it's so not motivating. I want to believe that the quality of my answers has something to do both with my understanding of the course, and with the grade I get. Maybe too much to ask, but at least allow me the illusion. My other grade reform would be that I think they should have to share samples of an A answer and a B-minus or C answer after the exam is over -- I want to see what people are and aren't doing that's causing them to do well or poorly. Otherwise we're left kind of clueless -- how good is the best answer? How bad is the worst? Which one am I closer to? And is there something stupid I'm not doing -- like creating subheadings, or drawing diagrams, or whatever -- that alone could give me higher grades without actually having anything to do with my comprehension. Just curious.

That's a long paragraph. Without a real point. Gosh. Rambling about exams. Hmm. Hope someone finds it sorta interesting, I guess. Sorry about the lack of funny in there. Maybe something funny later tonight? Any ideas? :)