Once fall semester midterm practice exams have been completed, students should have a clearer understanding of what to expect on final examinations in December. The Academic Achievement Program can help students understand immediate steps to take in order to learn from the midterm practice exam experience and to better prepare for the fall semester final examinations.
Even before receiving feedback on midterm practice exams, students may take immediate steps in order to learn from the midterm practice exam experience and to better prepare for the fall semester final examinations.
Steps to Take
1) Attend Dean's Fellow Study Groups
For students who have been regularly attending their Dean's Fellow Study Groups, continue attending. All weekly sessions have been carefully planned to systematically help develop the necessary foundation on which to build the skills that will assist in successfully completing law school examinations.
For those who have not regularly attended, the Academic Achievement Program strongly urges to begin attending now, and to regularly participate for the remainder of the semester. Dean's Fellows will soon begin the formal exam preparation sessions, which will continue until the Academic Achievement Program Dean's Fellow Study Groups end this semester. Those upcoming sessions provide several opportunities for students to work through sample hypothetical exam questions and will include lessons on careful reading of exam questions, organizing exam answers and writing out practice exams.
2) Schedule an Appointment with a Writing Dean's Fellows
Good legal writing is nothing more than well-written good legal analysis and Law School essay examinations require competence in conveying analysis and conclusions in clear, concise written form. Students who seek assistance with practice and development of writing skills should schedule appointments or simply "drop in" to see an Academic Achievement Program Writing Dean's Fellow, who can provide assistance with organization, structure, style, grammar and composition.
In addition, students may, on their own initiative, obtain copies of practice exams at the Law Library Circulation Desk. After completing written answers to those exams, they may bring them to a Writing Dean's Fellow who will review students' written answers and provide feedback on the written product. Writing Dean's Fellows will neither review nor comment on issues of substantive law, but will provide assistance with organization, structure and composition.
3) Attend Class and Pay Attention to Practice Exam Feedback
All students should regularly attend all classes, be well-prepared for class, take notes and participate in class discussions. Also, faculty members will provide some form of written, individualized feedback on practice exams. They may also offer sample or model answers, "grades" (which do not count in determining your final course grade) and review sessions following the midterm exam. Some may also schedule appointments with students to go over the exam. In reviewing your exams with your professors, try to identify your strengths and weaknesses in the following areas:
- Knowledge of substantive law
- Identification of issues on the exam (issue spotting)
- Organization of exam answer (IRAC)
- Complete analysis of issues (not "too conclusory")
4) Understand Exam Grades Received
Reviewing an exam in a course where a grade was not as high as expected can help improve performance in the next set of exams. Bluebooks should be available to review soon after the grade is posted. Typically that should be a week or at most two. Remember, though, that it may take longer for a faculty member to have a sample or model answer prepared and that often there's really very little to be gained just by re-reading your bluebooks if the professor is going to prepare a model answer.
Not all problems are exam-related, but one may find out that there are aspects of how exam-writing was approached that undermined the ability to communicate fully what had been learned.
· Just re-reading answers, in conjunction with the exam, may give some insight into problems with the way an exam was written. A few faculty members write comments on exams, which are worth reading. (Most faculty members do not write comments, since it could delay getting the grades in and there are many students who don't review their exams.)
- If the faculty member has made a model or sample answer available, a student should read it in conjunction with his or her own answer.
- If the faculty member has scheduled a session to go over the exam, attend it. (See #4 below)
- If the faculty member is available to go over an individual’s exam, take advantage of that opportunity. (See #4 below)
- Try to learn whether the deficiencies in an exam answer were as a result of organization, analysis of legal issues (and/or being too conclusory), issue-spotting, knowledge of substantive law, writing (including grammar and punctuation.) This information is important as one tries to improve your skills for the spring semester. The Academic Achievement Program will hold an Examination Workshop and will expect students to analyze strengths and weaknesses in these areas.
5) Know What to Not Expect When Reviewing an Exam
A grade change: Law School policy forbids changing grades in exam courses once they've been submitted to the Registrar, except in the rare instance where an "arithmetic or transmitting error is discovered" or where cheating is discovered, as the Law School Handbook sets out. The instructor must contact the Associate Dean to support the basis for the change of grade in those rare instances where there is a basis for a change of grade and the final authority rests with the Associate Dean.
Information on whether any required grade distribution was followed: There is a grade distribution for the first-year and for upper-level adjunct courses and seminars. There is no need for any student to check a faculty member's compliance with the curve. The Registrar carefully checks grades against any required curve, and does not post them on CaneLink until the grades are in conformance with the curve.
Unlimited access to information about how a professor arrived at an exam grade: There are some things that are reasonable to expect and others are not.
6) Review an Exam in Time
Don't wait beyond the end of the Spring semester to review Fall semester exams (and don't wait beyond the end of the next Fall semester to review Spring or Summer exams). While there is no rule forbidding one from waiting longer than that, remember that the whole purpose is to improve performance on the next round of exams. Also, the law school does not typically save bluebooks for more than a year after the exam was given. Finally, even if an arithmetic or transmitting error were discovered, the Handbook provides that any resulting grade change could be made no later than the end of the semester following the semester in which the exam was given.
While a number of faculty members are available over the summer to review spring exams, students should be aware that not all faculty will be around during the summer. Others have intense summer teaching schedules or research projects that may make meetings difficult over the summer. Keep in mind while a student should be able at least to examine bluebooks during the summer, faculty who have not been able to meet with students over the summer about spring semester exams will typically be available in the Fall to do so.
Once again, for any questions about when faculty members will be available to meet, the best way to find out is to ask the faculty member or his or her assistant.
The Dean of Students is always available for advice and guidance on academic performance. However, note that the Dean of Students does not have authority to change grades nor is there a formal appeal process.
7) Meet with Faculty to Review an Exam
As grades are posted on the CaneLink system, students may find themselves confused about some of grades and wish to go over some of examinations with the faculty members who taught the courses. The Student Handbook provides that students have a right to examine their essay examination papers, if they so request within a semester of the completion of the examination. While faculty members are not required to meet individually with students, most are available for such appointments. However, consider that faculty members are not required to schedule appointments immediately, and may set out a block of times when they will be available. In the spring semester, when students seek to go over fall exams, many faculty are not immediately available for appointments. Getting a model or sample answer typed up and proofed may take up to a few weeks. In addition, right after they hand in grades in one class, faculty members may be focusing on current classes or finishing grading exams in another course, or they may have other things they have put off while grading that they have to attend to first. Ordinarily, faculty who are scheduling appointments would begin doing so within a month of the posting of grades, and some would be available earlier.
Be aware, however, that faculty may impose conditions on exam review:
- They may, for security reasons, provide a photocopy of an examination paper rather than the original, require a student sign the bluebooks out, or require a student examine the exam under the supervision of their assistant, rather than taking it away.
- In some cases faculty members maintain banks of examination questions, and thus may impose limitations on the circulation of the exam itself.
- In order to ensure a more productive meeting, faculty members may impose such conditions as requiring that students read a model or sample answer before meeting with the faculty member.
A student may:
- Ask a faculty member to re-check the addition if he or she is concerned that there might have been an arithmetic error.
- Ask a faculty member to confirm that there was no error in transmission (i.e., that the final grade given is in fact the grade recorded in CaneLink);
- Ask a faculty member to let him or her know whether there were other factors that affected a grade, and how (e.g., class participation; written exercises; excessive absences).
A student may not:
- Expect the faculty member to engage in a discussion of how his or her performance compared to another student's exam.
- Insist on access to grading or point sheets.
- Insist on knowing point cut-offs for particular grades.
For questions about the procedures and policies that faculty members have, the best way to find out is to ask the faculty member or his or her assistant. Students will need to make sure you comply with those procedures, as faculty members have sound reasons for developing the exam review procedures they have in place.