Law Professor Takes on Law School Exams:
Northwestern Law Prof Steve Lubet, who I believe runs the clinical programs at Northwestern, has an article in the American Lawyer arguing that traditional law school essay exams are in need of major reform:
There is almost nothing about the typical law school examination that is really designed to test the skills involved in law practice. And many aspects of exams are positively perverse. Take time pressure, for example. By their nature, exams are time-limited, usually to about three or four hours, during which it is necessary to assess the problems, decide on the answers, marshal the material (whether strictly from memory or from an "open book"), and then write, hopefully, coherent answers. There is no opportunity for reflection, research, reconsideration or redrafting. You simply dash off your answer and hope you got it right.
He continues:
The dirty secret (if it is a secret) is that law schools rely on exams primarily because they are easy to grade. The intense time pressure guarantees that the answers will be relatively short and, even more important, that quality will differ significantly. Exams do a great job of dividing test takers into measurable categories, even if those categories measure nothing more than an ability to take tests in an artificial, nonlawyerly setting.
  I have worried a lot about about this same dynamic, although I don't think the situation is quite as bad as Lubet suggests. I suspect the reason for the traditional dominance of in-class three-hour law school exams is less the need to generate short and varied answers than it is to limit opportunities for cheating. Take-home exams are the most common alternative to the traditional approach; they offer the benefit of giving students the opportunity to reflect at length on their answers in a way that is a bit more like most types of legal practice. But take-home exams also create a window for unethical students to bend (or break) the rules.

  With that said, I don't know why law schools couldn't increase the amount of time allowed for in-class exams and then impose word limits on answers. Most law students take their in-class exams on laptops these days, which would make the shift to word limits easy to administer. This approach would be fairer for students who perform less well in the highly pressured atmosphere of a three-hour exam, and wouldn't impose a substantial burden on professors.

  Any thoughts? Should law schools that follow the traditional approach consider switching from traditional three-hour in-class exams to five-hour or six-hour in-class exams with word limits on answers? I am assuming the exams are open book (which I think is the most common approach, and obviously the approach that most closely resembles legal practice).

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