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.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I wrote last Saturday about how I like exams better than papers. Just came across Prof. Yin's post asking whether students prefer three-hour in-class exams to 24-hour take-homes. As one might imagine, the comments are mixed. Some people like the short ones, some people like the long ones. I've never had a 24-hour take-home in law school. Maybe in college. Probably not. I can't remember. I definitely recall some sort of exam that we had to pick up at some point and turn in some small number of days later, but most of my exams in college were in-class, and most were closed-book, I think.

Law school, here, has two kinds. 3-hour in class and 8-hour take-home. I had one exam 1L year that was a hybrid: 1 hour closed-book in-class and then 6 hours take-home. That was kind of cool, actually. Probably in the minority thinking that. I feel like, of the people I've talked to about this, opinion is pretty split. Some people much prefer the 8-hour ones because they don't need to panic and have time to read stuff, and think, and it isn't a race. Some people much prefer the 3-hour ones because they're shorter.

I think it's mostly a matter of personal preference, and one's own assessment of his or her strengths and weaknesses. I may have written this before, but I find the 3-hour ones so much more pleasant. And I find that I do better on them. In an ideal world, I'd love every exam to be closed-book, long enough that no one can reasonably finish in the time allotted, and with extra points for humor. :) It's partly because I really do prefer spending 3 hours taking an exam rather than 8 hours, and find the 8 hour ones just brutally horrible to sit through, because it's hard to do exam for so long without losing steam and wanting to leap out a window. But I think it's also partly because of what I feel like I do well versus what I feel like I do less well.

If I have any comparative advantage over some of my classmates, it's absolutely not in my depth of legal understanding. There are people here who really think about some of the legal issues we cover in class, who really have opinions, who really know what they're talking about, who care about child custody laws a lot more than I do, who could write a legitimate article on some of these things that would be interesting and incisive although probably kind of dry, and aren't just faking it. For the most part, I'm not one of them. I type fast, and I have a good memory for things I read. I'm good at spitting information back. I'm good at figuring out what a question wants me to do with it. I'm good at playing with course material on a surface level -- tying things together superficially, and seeing three paragraphs worth of a big picture, but not writing sixteen pages about the dissent and why it's wrong. I can recall case names and authors and trivia that makes it seem like I know more than I do. It makes me good at standardized tests and bad at useful class participation (although the lack of anything to say is probably not the only reason I don't talk in class any more than I'm forced to, I don't think it's a bad reason at all). Depth and real analysis, in the context of these law classes we take, is not my comparative strength here. Maybe because these aren't things I'm passionate about, maybe because I just haven't put the time into it, maybe all sorts of things. On whether the Mets should have signed Pedro, or on why the Debbie Downer sketches on Saturday Night Live aren't as funny as they could be, I can write with depth and conviction, just not about the rules of jurisdiction. On an eight-hour exam, I feel like I'm faking it. And because everyone else has the chance to go back and look at things and take the time to think, the fact that I remembered what the punitive damage award amount was doesn't really help me. I'd guess my eight-hour take-home answers don't look much different from what the same answer would look like in a three-hour in-class. Which means for an eight-hour take-home, my answers are not so thrilling.

So I like three-hour exams. That's all this post actually says. :)