Monday, February 7, 2022
I have spent the last few weeks working with students who did not perform as well as they (or their doctrinal professors) thought they should on exams. While information on what went wrong on multiple choice exams is scarce (other than not choosing the correct answer), determining where things went awry on essay questions is diagnostic gold. So, like I am sure we all do, I tell students to go talk to the professors about their exams. This isn’t a novel idea to the students, but often the reaction I get is abject fear. Here are some things you can tell students about the necessary post-mortem conversation:
- The Professor isn’t going to lower your grade. There is a lot of paperwork and sometimes even a faculty vote involved, so it is extremely difficult to change a grade in any direction. You are more likely to have the U.S. Supreme Court grant certiorari on an appeal than for a professor to change your grade based on this conversation.
- The Professor is very, very unlikely to raise your grade unless there is a clear mathematical error. See above (less paperwork and no votes when it is math).
- There may be some fiery hoops to jump through to get to this conversation. There are no three-headed dogs guarding the gates, but you may need to pick up your exam, check the class-wide comment sheets, check your individual grading rubric, and read any posted sample answers before you even attempt to sign up for an appointment.
- Jump through the aforementioned hoops and then make the appointment.
- Keep the appointment. Trust me, there is someone who could have used this appointment and by making it and monopolizing this time, you have an obligation (unless it is an emergency) to not waste it.
- Prepare concrete questions for the appointment-not, “what did I do wrong?” but more, “I see the rubric indicated that you were looking for a different restatement section here, can you explain why that one was more applicable than the one I mentioned?” Write these questions down because you will get flustered. Also, write down the answers because your relief that this meeting is over will erase the answers from your memory.
- This is going to be hard. There is no way (and no need) to sugarcoat it. Facing the reality that you did not do well is really hard and hearing the details is even harder.
- It is worthwhile-because the information from this meeting will form the basis of the plan that we will work on together to prevent the issues from reoccurring. The emphasis is on “we,” because you are not alone in this journey. ASP is with you.
- It is also worth noting that while the Professor is very unlikely to yell at you, belittle you, mock you, or tell you to leave law school altogether, you may see it that way in the heat of the meeting. Try to distinguish your inner voice from the comments and critique they are giving you. If you have done this and realize that the call is not coming from inside the house, please come tell me and we will make a plan to address it.
- Someday you will laugh about the fear you had going into this meeting. I recognize that today is not that day.
So, as Irving Berlin said in 1936, “Before the fiddlers have fled; Before they ask us to pay the bill; And while we still have the chance, Let’s face the music and dance.”