Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Midterm in Property?

I'm working on my first syllabus for Property, a 4 credit spring course.  I am considering having a midterm a week before Spring Break.  The midterm would make up probably 40% of the final grade and the final exam would be non-cumulative.

This is not an original idea -- another Wake Forest Property Prof does the same thing.  I'm wondering how many other Property Profs give a midterm and what you see as the advantages and disadvantages.  Here's my initial list of pros and cons:


-- The midterm would be given a week after we wrap up the material on estates in land and future interests.  The main "pro" is that students would be tested on future interests while the material is still fresh in their minds and they wouldn't waste a lot of their finals prep time with the material.

-- The ABA (and many other folks) think that midterms are a good idea, for a variety of different reasons.


-- Possible student revolt at the prospect of a test on future interests a week before Spring Break?

-- I would end up spending Spring Break grading midterms.


Property Profs, I would appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

Tanya Marsh

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I have given a mid-term for years in Property, but I give it only 20 or 30 percent weight -- 20 percent if solely on estates, 30 percent if adverse possession or other possessory concepts are included. I focus on estates for the same reason as you are proposing.I give it the week before spring break. My final then is non-cumulative.

Students tell me they like the feedback and the fact that the final is not the entire grade. They have not complained about having to take it befoe spring break, as long as I don't conflict with a due date for a Legal Writing assignment. My mid-term has been multiple choice/short answer, which helps with the spring break grading issue. But this year I am considering an essay question to give students some practice and feed back about my essay grading approach

I hope this is helpful.

Pete Salsich
Saint Louis University

Posted by: Peter Salsich | Dec 15, 2010 11:42:10 AM

At Pepperdine, all first year professors are expected to give mid-terms and comprehensive feedback to the students in the first semester. I teach Property as a six-unit course over two semesters. In the first semester, I give a one-hour essay exam, which I grade the same way I grade their final essays, but the midterm does not count toward their final grade. This has the downside of students not sufficiently preparing, but most of them actually do a fair job in this regard because they get appropriate feedback from the professor.

In the second semester, I give them a one-hour multiple choice with questions designed to test the way the bar exam tests. This also does not count towards their final grade, but gives me an opportunity to work individually with those students who experienced problems on the multiple choice portions of their first semester exams. I think midterms are a great idea, but for first year students I don't think they should be counted toward the final grade. Our academic policy at Pepperdine allows us to count first year midterms to move the final grade one notch, up or down (B to B+ or C to C-), but not to the degree you propose at 40%.

Remembering my experiences as a student, I really didn't understand the material thoroughly until the end of the semester when I could "put it all together." Therefore, I don't want to put the additional pressure on the students to obtain a good grade on the midterm. I would rather they do their best and learn from the experience. As to upper division students, the idea of a midterm that counts is more palatable to me, but I still do not personally count them towards the final grade. Hope these ideas are helpful!

Posted by: Shelley Saxer | Dec 15, 2010 12:22:32 PM

I recently vowed on these very pages not to do it again, but I know I probably will.

I've given a midterm every semester for years. Like Shelley, I teach property as a 6 credit course over 2 semesters. Usually, in the Fall, about 2/3rds of the way through the semester, I give a midterm that covers about half of the semester material (from first possession through future interests, but not including the rule against perpetuities), but I weight it about 30% of the final grade. That way it counts, but is also discounted relative to the total material since it is often their first law school exam. In the Spring, I've usually given one that counts for 50% of the final grade. I make them non-cumulative: whatever is on the midterm is not on the final exam.

I share Shelley's concern about testing them too early, since for me law school classes also really came together at the end. But they do want the feedback, and I think they apply themselves harder if it counts.

Posted by: Mark A. Edwards | Dec 15, 2010 12:43:09 PM

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