“Easy” Exams v. “Hard” Exams

By Professor Matthew Festa

I hear a lot of law students talk about the relative degree of difficulty of a given professor’s exam. “You’re lucky that you have Professor X; her exam is much easier than the prof in the other section.” Or, “don’t take an elective with Professor Y; his exam is really hard.” On a certain level, this makes some sense, but it really doesn’t matter, for two reasons: (1) we’re all teaching pretty much the same law in the 1L curriculum, so you’re going to have to learn the same amount of stuff anyway; and (2) most law schools there’s this thing called a grading curve. And if you’re doing your work in class and throughout the semester, you should want the exam to be difficult.

I gave an exam once that in retrospect was too easy. Most of the students were mostly able to spot the issues and reason their way to the right answers. It was very difficult for me to grade, in terms of making the distinctions between students who had a satisfactory grasp of the subject, and those who really knew it well. So if you’re the kind of student who wants to work had and excel—and you wouldn’t be reading Open Book if you weren’t—you should be prepared either way, and maybe even hope for a “hard” exam where you can really show your stuff.

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One Response to “Easy” Exams v. “Hard” Exams

  1. Ex student of yours says:

    The problem is the existence of a curve to begin with. It creates an artificially competitive environment where one’s “rank” is based on a 3 hour exam that tests how well someone can stroke the professor’s ego at that particular point in time. In no way does it actually measure how much a student knows or how good of an attorney they will be in real life, especially since we will always have more than three hours to assess a case and will have the resources we need right next to us.

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