Are Law School Grades Really Arbitrary?

By George Khoury, Esq. on November 29, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

No one ever said law school was going to be easy. However, when people tell you that law school grades are random and arbitrary, well that's just ridiculous.

Sure, there may be a couple random circumstances that arise, like whether you wake up sick, or your bus breaks down on the way to the exam, or some jerk passes some nasty gas right next to you during the exam, but that doesn't mean your law school grades are random or arbitrary. And while law school exams might not be wholly indicative of a student's future ability to be a good lawyer, they certainly measure how well a student understands the material, which is likely to be indicative of whether the student will pass their bar exam and become a lawyer at all.

Preparation Requires More

Law school exams are not to be taken lightly. After all, at most schools, final exams make up all, or nearly all, of a student's final grade. Being prepared for those exams is akin to preparing for trial. There are lots of moving parts and if you neglect your mental and physical health, you are not preparing for exams correctly.

Not only do you have to master the materials, but you need to keep yourself healthy. The real world, aka courts and law offices, are not going to grant you a trial continuance or any slack because you have the sniffles, a sore throat, a tummy ache, are really stressed out, or couldn't sleep. Performing under extreme stress and pressure is part of the job of lawyering. So the next time a classmate rips one during exams, tell them to eat less cheese and thank them for helping you prepare for the bar, as quite frankly, the examiners barely care if there's an earthquake during the exam. (Notably, the bar exam takers in Southern California during the 2008 earthquake barely scored lower, on average, than the rest of the state, and were only awarded one additional point -- out of 1,800 -- due to the earthquake).

Professors Grade Just Like Clients, Bosses or Judges

Another point that those in the "law school exam grades are random" camp seem to rally around is the fact that professors in different classes often grade exams differently. Some profs fly through grading their exams just checking to see if issues were spotted. Some pour over each and every word, trying to see just how well each student understood each question. And others have other methods. Don't be afraid to ask your profs how they grade exams, but just don't expect an answer from most.

Furthermore, because most law school classes are graded on a curve, your grades are even less random. You can be assured that your score will be plotted against your peers, hence any alleged randomness in the grading between difference classes should impact everyone the same way.

And guess what? In the real world for new and experienced lawyers, their clients, judges, and bosses, all grade their work (and everyone else's work) based on their own criteria (which is usually way more nit-picky than any professor's) that you may not know about until you're being raked over the coals for not living up to their expectations. So when push comes to shove, while law school often gets knocked for not teaching law students how to be lawyers, the all-or-nothing, cold-as-ice, grading system certainly isn't where schools fall short.

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