Well, grades were posted this last week, and everyone I knew held their breaths while they refreshed their browser anxiously waiting to see that letter representation of their hard work. When I finally saw my grades, my heart skipped a few beats. I was disappointed. I did not know what to expect, but what I saw was something I did not expect.
Grades in law school are so incredibly different than how you were graded in undergraduate or graduate school. Firstly, you are on a curve. What does that mean? It means you are graded against one another. Your work is weighted against how well other people do or don’t do. This curve is affected by everyone’s performances. As one professor told me last semester, “your work is very good, but a few other students’ works are just slightly better.”
Secondly, this means you should keep in mind that everyone is incredibly smart and motivated as well. You are not necessarily being graded on simply regurgitating facts or material, but rather, you must be able to take in the information and apply them to fact patterns (hypothetical scenarios), spot issues, present rationales, analyze, and reach the best conclusion. I say best because there may be more than one possible conclusion or manner in which to reach a conclusion, but you should present the best one.
Thirdly, what is the best? Well, this is where you should pay extra attention in class to what your professor tends to focus on, and you should seek clarification or ask questions in office hours. You should always think about opposing arguments and analyze them in relation to your own. The best advice I have received is any disappointment I feel should be turned into an opportunity to seek improvement tips straight from the professors who graded me. Your professors will more than likely (depending on their schedules) be available for you to ask for constructive criticism about your final.
2L and 3L students have told me the feedback they received has been invaluable. Some comments were needing to address opposing arguments, being sure to walk through the rationales clearly so the argument flows naturally, outlining before writing the essay so your thoughts are more organized, and being sure to spot all the issues because there are always more than one.
Whatever the feedback, it is important to keep in mind you must make your own honest assessment. I have realized that I need to make an extra effort to review and begin outlining weekly versus waiting until large sections of material are covered. I also know that I want to tighten my time management even more so than I did last semester to ensure that my new, stricter schedule can be accommodated with my new studying tactics. Much like anything in life, you have to figure out what works best for you and be honest with making adjustments accordingly to maximize efficiency and return for yourself.