You’re going to hear an awful lot about grades heading into law school. The commentary ranges from the dreaded grading “curve,” to final exams, with horrifying stories mixed in between. Most students couldn’t imagine having their entire grade riding on one final exam, and only four students in a class of eighty get an A? What the heck is that?! With this post I provide some insight on how to avoid these stress “booby-traps.”
I do not intend to minimize the importance of grades in law school. In fact, grades are probably the single most important factor in landing a job after graduation. Instead, I provide you with some perspective on common issues. Why? Well because 1L-year is often the most stressful year of law school, simply because you don’t understand the nature of the beast yet. Well, I’m here to explain the beast to you.
The dreaded “curve.” You’ve heard a lot about it. A grading curve where only “x” amount of students get an A, “x” amount get an A-, and so on. Sounds pretty scary right? Wrong, and the sooner you learn that, the better. Law school is set-up for coasters! You’ve met coasters before. They do just enough to get by, and nothing more. You see, the dreaded “curve” is really nothing more than a standard bell curve ranging from A’s to C’s. Sure only 5% of the class gets A’s. And sure only 5% of the class gets C’s. But that means 90% of the class gets somewhere in between. You can do that!
Why C’s and not F’s? Well, law school doesn’t quite work that way. You’re probably not in danger of getting an F unless you skip class pretty regularly—and I’m not talking just once a week. So, assume an F is out of the question and the worst you can do is a C. Now we’ve got your GPA somewhere in the ballpark of 2.0 – 4.0 range. Those coasters we talked about, they occupy the 2.0 – 3.2 range. Do enough to stay ahead of the coasters and you’ll get yourself a good grades. Trust me.
Final exams. Final exams are by far THE greatest stress inducer in law school. Both preparing for exams and the months leading up to them can be equally as stressful. Likely, you’ll spend the first half of your semester trying to wrap your head around one exam that accounts for your entire grade, and the other half worrying about actually taking it.
Step back and take a deep breath. If you’ve done an adequate amount of studying (to the point where you can answer questions without your outline), then you’re as prepared for the exam as you’ll ever be. Rather than continually studying the material, study the beast. Get to know her, all of her secrets. First, rent a book that’s subject matter is exclusively exam taking tips. I recommend this book. Exam taking books provide great advice on issue spotting, time management and efficient writing style. Second, TAKE PRACTICE EXAMS! If I could write this a thousand times over again I would because it’s so important. If you walk into any given classroom without having done at least a few practice exams, you’ve done yourself a supreme injustice and can expect a full letter grade impact on your exam score. Third, TAKE PRACTICE EXAMS! There, I said it again.
These suggestions are meant to provide future law students with perspective on some common stress pitfalls. If I could summarize this blog into one theme, it would be: stay ahead of the coasters and you’ll be just fine!