Some thoughts on improving grades

By now, most of us have our grades back.

Anecdotally speaking, it seems like the 1L class’s feelings on how exams went are pretty much a mirror image of the bell curve: a small handful of us are happy, a small handful are miserable, and the vast majority are somewhat content.

I had some good and (not) so good surprises when marks came back. I have to admit, one in particular resulted in a Greys Anatomy-Haagen Daaz- “poor me” fest. Once I emerged from my sugar induced coma and self pity, I realized a few things about grades. I asked myself this question:

What are grades?

a) they define my self worth

b) they are determinative of my future

c) they’re feedback

I lingered on “A” and “B” for a bit before coming to the conclusion that all grades are, are feedback. The more you personalize your grades, the less you will learn from them. If you decide that Dec. grades are the best you can do (no matter how you did), you’re selling yourself short.

I found myself thinking things like “well, all this grade represents is how I felt on that particular day, on that particular question. it’s not representative of anything. Law school marking is flawed, arbitrary and we may as well draw straws to see who gets the best mark!”. While no marking system is a perfect reflection of any individual’s capabilities, it seems like the system we have in law schools at this time is the best we can do. So trying to think of it more constructively, I came up with a different analogy.

Someone who doesn’t know much about hockey might look at game seven of the Stanley Cup final and see the goal in overtime as a fluke. A small, unrepresentative moment that doesn’t reflect the losing team. However, what they fail to see is the hundreds of games that the winning team had to win to get there, the extra hours they put in, the fact they had more shots on goal, etc. Okay, I ran out of specific examples so I guess that shows how much I know about hockey…

Applying this analogy to law school, I decided to think about my performance this way. Using my exams as feedback, I’m going to identify what could have gone better in the exam, and working consistently at strengthening those skills on an ongoing basis.

I’m not trying to cast grades as a “winner/loser” scenario like a hockey game, nor am I saying that missing one hour of studying here and there will determine your mark. I just choose to think of my improvement as more of a process-oriented feedback loop. The marks are just the tip of the iceberg, and the other 90% below the surface is the work you put in to succeed on a consistent basis.

My boyfriend has since torn many holes in my “Stanley Cup” analogy (he’s the hockey expert), but my basic message is this: take exams as a non-personal form of feedback, focus on targeted and consistent improvement..

The Girl’s Guide to Law School has some great tips on how to improve your Dec. exam grades, which I highly recommend, whether or not you’re a girl.

Fill out this poll to see how your classmates feel about exams


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