Moments after I finished my final exam, a scary thought came to mind, “What if I just failed?”
In college, if you failed an exam you had a chance to redeem yourself throughout the semester. In law school, our grades are usually determined by one final exam. Sometimes, we have midterms. In most cases, the final exam makes or breaks your grade.
Let’s break this down. Law School grades are based on a curve. A certain portion of the class gets A’s, B’s, and so on. This typically isn’t the professor’s rules; the school sets the curve.
Depending on the class, the curve can be your best friend or your worst enemy.
If the entire class takes an exam and fails, the curve works in your favor. Unfortunately, when the exam is easier, one question could be the difference between a letter grade.
So far, my lowest grade in law school has been in Professional Responsibility. I was just as shocked as you are. I received a 100 percent on the midterm and a raw score of an 85 on the final. Both exams were comprised of multiple choice questions. No essays, no short answers. You either got the question right or you got the question wrong.
Naturally, I was furious. Under normal circumstances, I would have received somewhere between a B+ and an A- in the class. Under the curve, I received a C+. This was with my grade being raised half a letter for participation. In what world is an A average, a C? I quickly learned that this is the norm in law school.
The main problem with the law school curve is that it is not universal.
While in school, we learn that everything is a competition. Once we finish school, that statement becomes even truer. After we graduate and pass the bar, we are competing for jobs.
In the real world, we are not just being compared to our classmates, we are being compared to every other law school graduates. This would not be a problem if all law schools graded the same.
Although the premise of the curve is similar across the board, different grading curves are problematic. For example, the Ivy League schools follow a more liberal grading system. Specifically, Harvard Law School does not give out grades. Courses are evaluated using “passes” and “fails.” Not to mention, some of the Ivies do not even require an LSAT score for admission. I digress.
Currently, I attend law school in the state of Florida. If you were to look at the average GPA of Florida law schools, it falls within a 3.0 range. This is because most schools follow a B curve. My school follows a C curve. This means that the average GPA is around a 2.5-2.75. So, my C+ in Professional Responsibility was above the curve for my school, but still below the curve compared to other Florida law schools.
Looking at the big picture, Professional Responsibility prepares you for the MPRE, an exam that determines whether you are ethical enough to practice law. I mean, a lie detector test would work too, but that’s not up to me to decide. Statistically speaking, my grade in the class meant it was likely that I would pass the MPRE. So, I didn’t think too much of this.
Last summer, I attended my first career fair. I traveled to Georgia to interview for a summer internship at a large firm. This was my dream firm. My dreams were shattered when I was asked, “Why did you get a C+ in Professional Responsibility?”
Although I was screaming internally, I calmly explained the curve at my school and how I was challenging my grade. I kept my cool and the interviewers seemed emphatic. Unfortunately, I didn’t take enough classes to qualify for the internship, but it was a great learning experience. From that day on, I would not let my grades determine whether I got a job.
Ironically, after I left the interview, I received an email that my grade was being recalculated due to a “mathematical error.” I ended up with a B- in the class. Regardless of the class performing well on the exam, my professor was forced by the administration to lower our grades. Long story short, I did not get the grade that I earned.
I still strive to do well in school, but my grades do not define me. They do not define the lawyer that I will become.
I can’t control the curve, but I can control how the curve affects me.