I’m reading One L, a personal narrative about this one dude’s first-year law school experience at Harvard in the 1970s. I’m told by more recent law school graduates that aside from minutiae (such as taking notes by hand versus on laptop), his academic experience is identical to those of first-year law students at pretty much any other US institution today.
Turow provides a general description of professors’ expectations and teaching styles and his own arduous learning experience. His narrative is engaging, honest, and unswervingly serious, no doubt a reflection of his own neurotically solemn state of mind during that time. He makes it pretty clear that the first year of law school is emotionally and mentally taxing, often in epic proportions. What worries me most is not the endless hours I expect to study, the infinite amount of material I’m expected to absorb, or the breakneck speed at which I’m expected to absorb it (though these things do worry me). What I’m most anxious about is the grading system–specifically, the seemingly arbitrary manner in which pluses and minuses are meted out.
Unlike math or multiple choice exams, where grades have an easily quantifiable basis, law school exams are almost always in essay format. My understanding is that 90-93 percent equates to an A-minus, 94-97 percent to an A, and 98-100 to an A-plus. These percentages may be easy enough to determine on a multiple choice test, but I simply do not understand how a law professor decides that someone’s essay is worth 95 percent versus 98 percent. I’m sure that on at least some essay exams, numerical values are rewarded (or deducted) according to each concept a student correctly identifies and how well the concept is fleshed out, but the entire process still seems eerily subjective. How tired or cranky the professor feels on a particular day could dictate the difference between an A-plus and an A-minus (or even a B-plus), which could make a huge difference in student rank, which could ultimately determine whether or not a student gets on law review or a job.
I should probably talk to somebody about this soon before I freak out completely.