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Author Topic: Why are law school grades determined in part by luck?  (Read 2544 times)

mccarthy

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Why are law school grades determined in part by luck?
« on: January 17, 2010, 08:54:14 PM »
 I have heard many times during the application process that law school grades are in part the luck of the draw. Can this really be so? Is there a positive consensus about the truth of this assertion, and, if so, why is it true? I know nothing specific about law school grades or grading methods other than the general one exam-one grade concept and the existence of a sometimes harsh curve. It seems to me that such a method of handing out grades would favor those who write especially well and/or understand the pedagody and preference of the professor. Anybody care to set me straight on this matter?

Alamo

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Re: Why are law school grades determined in part by luck?
« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2010, 06:46:39 PM »
I think there's an element of luck, but as someone who did consistently well on exams, I'd like to think that luck was only a small part of it, though I'm obviously biased.  I did, however, take some exams I thought I aced that I didn't do so well in, and took some I was worried about that I ended up acing.

So, my guess is that I had a little bad luck, and a little good luck.  But you still need a solid foundation of knowledge if you hope to have enough "luck" to get an A.  I think part of the "luck" mystique comes from disillusioned law students who spent lots of time studying but didn't do so well.  To them, what else could they attribute their mediocre grades but luck?  The person surfing the internet in class in front of him who did better on the exam must have been "lucky."

But, to keep some perspective, I don't know anyone who did well without doing any work--not to say that people who do well have no lives, but a certain baseline is required.  You have to familiarize yourself with all the material, through whatever method works for you, and, before you take the exam, you have to have an idea how to apply the material to fact scenarios you have not yet seen (usually through practice exams). 

Some luck may also come from differences among professors, particularly in 2nd and 3d year courses. 

And, you could always get sick, or have some distracting personal matter arise, right around exam time. 

But overall, I find myself agreeing with Thomas Jefferson:  "I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."
I must admit that I may have been infected with society's prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God . . . and that in years hence I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history.  I don't believe such doubts make me a bad Christian.  I believe they make me human . . .

MCB

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Re: Why are law school grades determined in part by luck?
« Reply #2 on: January 18, 2010, 07:19:30 PM »
I think there's an element of luck, but as someone who did consistently well on exams, I'd like to think that luck was only a small part of it, though I'm obviously biased.  I did, however, take some exams I thought I aced that I didn't do so well in, and took some I was worried about that I ended up acing.

So, my guess is that I had a little bad luck, and a little good luck.  But you still need a solid foundation of knowledge if you hope to have enough "luck" to get an A.  I think part of the "luck" mystique comes from disillusioned law students who spent lots of time studying but didn't do so well.  To them, what else could they attribute their mediocre grades but luck?  The person surfing the internet in class in front of him who did better on the exam must have been "lucky."

But, to keep some perspective, I don't know anyone who did well without doing any work--not to say that people who do well have no lives, but a certain baseline is required.  You have to familiarize yourself with all the material, through whatever method works for you, and, before you take the exam, you have to have an idea how to apply the material to fact scenarios you have not yet seen (usually through practice exams). 

Some luck may also come from differences among professors, particularly in 2nd and 3d year courses. 

And, you could always get sick, or have some distracting personal matter arise, right around exam time. 

But overall, I find myself agreeing with Thomas Jefferson:  "I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."

This is a fantastic post.  And based on my experience, I agree with all of it.  Even those blessed with photographic memory and 'good luck' as far as the curve goes need to study in law school.  It is important to study smart though, and use methods that are effective.  There's so much information to master, I can see why many students frustratingly waste a lot of time and energy spinning their wheels.
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Tetris

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Re: Why are law school grades determined in part by luck?
« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2010, 06:13:05 PM »
Luck might determine the difference between a B+ or an A- but not a B- to a B+.  What I mean by that is that most exams are going to have two potential grades, and its sort of up to luck what one you get.  Did you put the answer the professor wanted?  How did other people do?  How good were the exams the professor read right before yours?  Things like that could have an impact once in a while I think.

But mostly, its all in your execution of the exam.  Exams can be gamed.  Learn how to game them. 
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CJScalia

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Re: Why are law school grades determined in part by luck?
« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2010, 09:39:43 PM »
Just to add my 2 cents to this conversation; I don't believe in luck at all as a factor when it comes to grading. Maybe this is only applicable to my school, but through 5 semesters so far every single grade I've gotten has been spot on how I judged my own performance on the respective finals.

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Ninja1

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Re: Why are law school grades determined in part by luck?
« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2010, 04:34:07 AM »
I think a person's exam taking technique and work ethic are the big deals, but I think luck matters to some degree.

Generally, the people that work the hardest and study the smartest (there are a lot of bad ways to study for law school) are going to do the best. And there must be some method to the madness, because a lot of people will almost always perform within a certain range.

That being said, luck most def plays a part. If nothing else, just getting lucky on what comes up on the exam is a big deal. And in my personal experience, it's entirely possible that you'll manage to back your way into a killer grade just by dumb luck or kill yourself for a class and get a crap grade. My best grade in law school so far came in a class that I was almost positive I was going to get a C- or D in. Prof didn't make sense most of the time, the book sucked, I didn't care at all for the material, total mess. I generally didn't like anything about the class and I stopped caring about halfway through the semester. If I went to class, I dicked off on the internet most of the time. Seriously hated the class and worked accordingly. I studied for the final for about 8 hours the night before and that was all. Didn't even outline, just printed off my notes. Easily the least work I've ever put into a law school class. And what do I get for my efforts? Top 10% in that particular class. But then when I bust my ass in a class, never miss a day, do all of the reading, and pay attention the entire time, I drill Cs like its my job. And of course, when I kind of slack off, occasionally skip classes or readings, and generally have a haphazard attitude towards a class, I ball on up to Bs consistently. Makes less than no sense. If it's not luck, both good and bad, I don't know what to call it.
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reez

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Re: Why are law school grades determined in part by luck?
« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2010, 07:18:46 AM »
Basically everything here is credited.

There are three facets of "luck" which I think compound each other:

First, on a law school exam, you can go down the right path of analysis or down the wrong path.  Preparation increases the likelihood of the former.  But you can be unprepared and stumble down the right path, just like you can be well-prepared and wrongly decide that X issue requires more attention than Y issue.  This is baseline "luck."

Second, exams are exercises in semi-frantic writing; when you're operating in a state of controlled panic, your performance is going to be volatile.  Were a well-prepared student to take the exact same Property exam 10 times (like Groundhog Day, except he's Andie MacDowell--no memory), he might get two As, three A-'s, three B+'s, and two Bs.  And that doesn't account for the baseline "luck" of going down the right (or wrong) path as a fluky take on some specific fact pattern.  When you factor that in, if you take 10 different Property exams, you might wind up with everything from an A+ to a B-.

Third, finally, there's inconstancy inherent in the grading process.  No matter how well you know a prof's tendencies and areas of emphasis, she might write a specific question with something bizarre and unpredictable in mind.

So that's the exam-specific stuff.  You can also get sick or sit next to a girl who treats her keyboard like a game of Whac-A-Mole--so on and so forth.

This all might sound extreme, but I know a number of people whose transcripts have 15 As and A-'s, and one B- or C+.  It happens.

BUT BUT BUT, the fact that you see people with consistently high (or consistently low) grades is absolutely indicative of the fact that overall success is really just about preparation & ability.  My point is only that "luck" exists (it's just another name for uncontrollable variables, but whatever).

Also, OP mentioned writing skills, which for my money is the most important element in getting good grades.  I'd wager that SAT II Writing scores are as good or better than LSAT scores at predicting law school class ranks.  If you write quickly, cogently and stylistically, you're going to get good grades.  That's not luck, but it's also not a teachable ability.

Yeah yeah I know, TLDR.