(Image via Getty) This time of year, as we law professors assess final exams and assign course grades, we naturally reflect on the ways some students could have done better in their test answers. But as I finished grading in my own course over the past few weeks, it occurred to me that it might also be helpful to think — and share my thoughts — about how to improve in creating law school tests. So below I offer — based on my two-and-a-half decades as an exam giver, my several years as an Associate Dean dealing with issues arising from exams given by my entire faculty, and my stint as a dean, that affords me the chance to hear much about what happens not just at my own school but at other law schools — four thoughts for law teachers to consider as they construct future exams.
In my first 20 years of teaching, I never gave any exam other than a final. The historical explanation for why law professors — as contrasted with undergraduate instructors — generally eschew midterm exams is, I think, largely resource-focused; unlike undergraduate professors, law professors ordinarily do not have Teaching Assistants who can help grade exams, and in a large course the time commitment involved for a law professor to carefully read and grade all the midterms as well as finals would be quite significant. But I have come to believe in the past handful of years that midterms (and other, shorter assignments prior to the final exam) are well worth the time investment. Regardless of how much weight I attach to midterm performance in the final course grade, and even if I use question types that are faster to grade than traditional issue spotting/analyzing questions — e.g., short answer, multiple-choice questions, modified true/false questions in which I tell students that particular statements are false but ask them to explain in a few sentences precisely how so — the feedback I get, and the feedback the students get, is invaluable.
Open- or Closed-Book
Just as I never used to give midterms, […]