May 4, 2011
Keeping grades in perspective
It is exam time. Angst is in the air. So many students are seeing their grades as life and death matters.
Losing perspective is easy In the middle of all the stress, studying, and single-minded focus on exams. The competitive atmosphere is not helping matters. It all seems so incredibly important in the fish bowl of law school.
Here are some things to keep in mind about grades on exams:
- An exam measures knowledge on one set of questions, on one day, at one point in time. No exam is able to measure everything that was in the course. No exam is able to measure everything that a student may have learned from a course.
- A grade reflects an assessment in just X credits out of Y credits required for graduation. If the course is 3 credits out of 90 credits for graduation, then there are 87 other credits that can reflect ability when one course exam proves disappointing.
- Employers look for upward trends in grades. A weak semester can be overcome by future strong semesters.
- There are jobs for people who are not in the top 10% - 25% - 30% - 50% of the class. There are also plenty of attorneys working who were in the bottom half of the class in law school. All of those attorneys have jobs at law firms, government agencies, and non-profits with competent professionals committed to serving clients well.
- Plenty of attorneys who were not the "cream" at their law schools prove themselves in practice. Law firms unwilling to consider them right out of law school based on grades will later woo them based on reputation.
- Focus on taking one day at a time. Perseverance and hard work will improve the chance of good grades. Fretting over grades merely steals energy from more important tasks.
- Avoid talking about exams after they are over. The issues that others say they spotted may have been rabbit trails. Some students will purposely pretend there were issues on an exam to upset others in their studying. You cannot change anything about a completed exam. It is more valuable to turn your attention to the next exam.
- Do not focus on your feelings about an exam. I can recount many stories of students certain they did poorly who end up with very good grades - they focus on how they feel about the exam and do not know the big picture of overall performance for the entire class.
Ten years from now, no one hiring you for a new opportunity in practice will likely ask about your specific grades. They will want to know how well you perform in the practice of law. They will want to know whether you are ethical, hard-working, committed to clients, and a good fit with their current attorneys and staff.
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