HLS Grading

BY RKLINCK@POST.HARVARD.EDU

The piece in the Record about the arbitrariness of the grading system caught my attention. I was interested not because of the question of whether law school exams are biased or not, but because I sensed the continued feeling that the grading system is wholly arbitrary. I graduated from HLS last June, and while there I was a member of the Law School Council for two years. I was one of the few members who consistently voted against grade reform. I voted against it because deep down I believed that the system was working. I must admit that after I had a tough semester, I questioned this belief. But, I went back and thought about how I performed on the exams and what I knew about those subjects; in the end, I realized that I had simply not done that well on the exams because I had overlooked parts of the course that were important. Since graduating, I have been clerking for a Circuit Court Judge. Last fall, I also had the privilege of teaching a law school class at the local state law school. I write this letter to give HLS students my perspective from the other side. As I read my students’ exams it was actually pretty easy to put them into an approximate order. I must admit that at the edges it got more difficult. I pondered whether Examinee A had done better than Examinee B or not. I also had some trouble deciding where to draw the lines between grade levels. Overall, though, I felt very comfortable with the choices that I made. I certainly did not (and still do not) have the feeling that my grading was somehow arbitrary. I suspect that most HLS professors have similar experiences grading your exams–although they may have to debate some choices at the edges, the exams generally separate themselves pretty well. I would say that students should remember what grades mean though. They are not meant as an absolute statement of worth. They only tell you how you did compared to your fellow classmates (a stellar group at HLS). I was happy to be among such a good group, and comforted myself with the knowledge that I had been beaten by a group that most likely included some of the future legal giants (although many of my classmates would likely challenge my modesty). I hope that giving the perspective from a newly graduated student who has seen behind the curtain helps you all to understand the system a little better.

Robert Klinck ’02

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