Friday, December 25, 2009

Grading Constitutional Law Exams

Happy grading!

Others may say "happy holidays," but for those of us teaching constitutional law or other law school courses - - - especially if we are teaching in large sections - - - it's the time of year when jolly sentiments can seem far away. 

More than six years ago I published an article in which I estimated that I had "spent over four thousand hours (almost six months of days and nights, or a year of long summer days) hunched over student work during my teaching career."   While Blue Books have been replaced by typed documents via Secure Exam (or some other software),

Jan 015

what hasn't changed is this:

Grading law school exams has been declared a “deadening intimacy with ignorance and mental fog” which saps a professor's pedagogical and scholarly energies. It is a “terrible occupation,” a “cloud,” a task which we accomplish with less efficiency and more distaste as our teaching career advances. Professorial engagement with Blue Books, in which most law student exams continue to be written, is deemed tedious and boring, leading to a “corrosive negativity” regarding the intellectual abilities of our students as well as a destructive influence upon our own character. In short, grading, especially of final examinations, is universally disparaged.

(footnotes omitted).  But perhaps it isn't so awful?  Maybe?  I entitled the article, The Zen of Grading (available on ssrn here) and explored grading as a honorable and even wonderful "practice."   There are no prescriptions (it's zen after all), but lots of riddles and introspection.  Many law professors, con law and otherwise, who grade essay exams and papers at the end of the semester, have written me to say they find it comforting.  At least one knows one isn't the only one "grading, grading, grading," especially when it can seem as if other colleagues (those multiple choice-givers!) are working on scholarship or perhaps even - aghast - socializing, indulging in holiday cheer, or vacationing.

For those who prefer humor to comfort, the amusing A Guide to Grading Exams by Daniel Solove (GWU Law School) is a treat!  Saying more will spoil the surprise if you haven't already seen this, but it's definitely worth looking at the full color illustrations and diagrams, although again, there are no prescriptions here. 

More great links about grading are available on Feminist Law Professors for amusement and commiseration.

Now, get back to those exams!

UPDATE: And with any luck, you are not a prof who "messed up" the exam this semester.


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