Tilting at windmills

I enjoy tests, I really do.

I’m only half-joking when I tell people I wrote the LSAT “for fun,” and I know I’m not the only one in my class who has done so. I’ve also written the SAT, GMAT, and GRE. I like the pressure, the intellectual challenge, and let’s be honest, it’s a little exciting to work at something that will have a large but unspecified impact on your future.

So believe me that I’m not anti-test when I say: law school exams (December exams, at least) are very different.

There is simply no way to write a 50-mark essay question AND a 50-mark response to a fact pattern in the span of an hour. Or to answer six 10-mark short-answer questions in an hour. Yet both were tests we wrote.

And there is a tight range that hovers around 70%, and very few grades fall far from that mark. We have been warned multiple times that, while we might be used to getting A grades, law school grades are intentionally much lower than that.

And finally, incredulously, UBC remains one of the few law schools in Canada that uses written tests instead of computerized ones. If you think writing a term paper in just one hour is tough, try doing it in pen.

To believe that you”ll do really well on December exams is kind of crazy, not unlike Cervantes’ anti-hero Don Quixote continually trying to fight (and win) against windmills. Quixote was never going to best those windmills, and we first years are never going to do well on our December tests. But you still have to try. It’s a reality of law school.

Thankfully, those December exams are “practice” exams: the weighting reduced to 0% if we do better on the April tests, but they want to give us a chance to practice writing law school tests. They scare us a little bit with low grades, then we presumably buckle down and do better in April, when it counts.

It also helps to know that the experience is shared, common to law schools across Canada. (Click here to see the University of Victoria law class’ fun but pointed take on December exam grading). Thousands of law students have written them, done poorly, and many still became great lawyers. It also really does help to practice writing law exams, it’s useful experience. And our April exams will be longer in length (2.5 – 3 hrs each), so the “writing a term paper in an hour in pen” thankfully won’t apply.

But still, having more chances to practice would improve our skill even more. As well, making December exams the same length as April exams would also be better for writing that term-paper-in-one-sitting, and would be a more realistic practice. And I know that there are already discussions about catching us up to the 21st century and using computers for exams.

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