David Friedman on Exams

Exam time is coming up at George Mason and most other law schools. Here’s a good comment on exams by famous law and economics scholar David Friedman:

I like to say that being a professor is better than working for a living, except when grading exams. One reason is that grading exams is a pain. Another is that it is when you find out that you have not done nearly as good a job of teaching as you thought you had.

I couldn’t agree more. Grading exams is by far the most painful part of being a professor. And it’s especially painful in those cases where I conclude that the student got the answer wrong in part because I didn’t do a good enough job of teaching. The rest of Friedman’s post has several other interesting observations on exams.

UPDATE: Some commenters suggest that students learn legal doctrine better if they read material on it other than just cases from casebooks. I agree that this is often true. That’s why in all my big survey classes, I assign material other material in addition to cases (e.g. – articles by leading scholars in the field). I usually assign significantly more non-casebook material than the average law professor would in teaching the same course. But dispensing with cases entirely would be a bad idea, because many times it’s important for the student to understand not just what the court decided, but what the reasoning was, what the opposing arguments were, and so on. Also, while some students learn best by reading essays or articles, I find that others are actually more comfortable reading cases. I wasn’t like that when I was a law student. But this is is just one of many situations where it’s important for faculty to recognize that many people learn differently from the way they do.

UPDATE #2: Some other commenters take me to task for somehow failing to appreciate that professors have better and more interesting jobs than most other people. Believe me I realize that. The excerpted quote from David Friedman states that “being a professor is better than working for a living.” I agree emphatically. But even the best jobs have aspects that are tedious and boring, and grading is like that. Professional athletes have great jobs too. But no one would blame an NBA or NFL player for noting that the extensive workouts they have to do are sometimes boring and unpleasant.

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