(This Makes Me Samuel L. Jackson in Jurassic Park)

RaptorQ: How do you escape a velociraptor?

A: Run faster than the person next to you.

A friend of mine loves this “joke” (defined as such to give him the benefit of the doubt). To be perfectly frank, I think there are better solutions to the problem. But I kept thinking of this line as I went through the final exam process.

Everyone deals with 1L exams in a different way. Adrienne talked a little bit about the stress of having all of your grades determined by one exam. For me, the bigger problem is not what the exams represent but what their grades mean. For those of you who are not aware, 1L classes at BU Law are set on a firm grading curve. The ranges for a ninety person 1L section are:

A+ = 0-5% (0-4)

A- and above = 20-25% (18-22)

B+ and above = 40-60% (36-54)

B = 10-50% (9-45)

B- and below = 10-30% (9-27)

C+ and below = 5-10% (4-9)

D, F = 0-5% (0-4)

This puts the “average GPA” somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.1-3.2, with a rough B/B+ curve split. Now, most of you might have experienced curves as an undergraduate, but I guarantee you this will be one of the toughest curves you ever encountered. It’s kind of disheartening when you can pick out at least 5-10 people who will probably do better on the exam than you because the window for your high grades can be closed by a handful of people. To BU Law’s credit, I’ve been here for a year and have not once questioned someone’s ability to hack the material. The material here, to be fair, isn’t inherently difficult in quality – but there is definitely not a shortage of quantity. But what this means is that the distinctions made between your knowledge of contract law and the person next to you can be as small as one or two points on a 1500 point exam. I just hope my professors read my exams after the first cup of coffee.

For me, the realization that it wasn’t enough to prove my objective knowledge of the material was disheartening. When subjective metrics are introduced to this kind of work, it can create feelings of uncertainty and lack of control because, well, you really don’t have control over your grades – the other 89 people in your class are just as responsible for the grades that you will carry with you into your career. The anxiety this has created for many students in top law schools, where the admissions process has already created an ultra-competitive environment, has led other campuses (including Stanford, Berkeley, and Yale) to go away from a traditional grading system to a honors/pass/fail system. This has obviously caused some controversy in its application, with the primary argument being that it discourages actual effort by students by dissolving all competition.

The reality of the matter is that top schools like Boston University School of Law are already recognized for the objective knowledge its students obtain over three years and, as a result, employers are willing to hire much deeper into those classes as a reflection of this traditional process. Of course, this does not make waiting for 1L grades any easier. Even though the competition rarely turns negative, it’s still a raptor-eat-man world in law school, and the bare minimum isn’t going to cut it when the you’re standing next to Michael Johnson (or Carl Johnson, for that matter). The best you can do is take your mark, find your angles and run as fast as you can.