LSAT Kung Fu Blog / Week 14: Forced Schmurve

Week 14: Forced Schmurve

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We like the yellow bit. Out on the red bit. Orange is OK I guess.

Last time we met (two weeks ago, because I took off from the blog on Thanksgiving week, mostly because my week before Thanksgiving was one of the busiest of my life—because I’m on a mock trial team, and because I’ll be writing onto one of my school’s journals, I had a series of evening meetings, which meant that there were three days in a row that week where I arrived at school by 8 AM and didn’t leave for home until after 8 PM. I am against 12-hour workdays. There’s probably a future blog post about the proper role of work in a healthy life), I told you that law school is “all a game. Don’t you ever forget that.”

I thought about that some more, and decided it was worth spending some more time on.

Why is law school a game? What is unserious about it? Why should you not hold the entire enterprise in higher esteem?

There are a few reasons, among them the profit motive and the problem of easy access to enormous amounts of non dischargeable debt (and in all fairness, those are probably the biggest, most important flaws in our current system of training lawyers, and maybe I’ll write more about them some other time). But once you’ve accepted your bill and found some way to pay it, now you’ve got to do the damn thing.

And that’s when you’ll run into it. The problem I want to write about today. The main reason that I insist to you that you must never forget that this whole thing is a game.

The forced curve.

If you know what that is, you can skip the next two paragraphs. I’ll see you in paragraph nine! K love you bye! For those of you who didn’t skip ahead, a forced curve is really what it sounds like; it is a required bell curve distribution for grades. That means that the school sets an artificial median grade (at most schools, it’s around a 3.0). Then every professor has to adjust her grades to fit that predetermined median.

This means that if you have a class of geniuses, you cannot give them all As, no matter how high the quality of their work. You can’t give most of them As, even if most of them actually produce superior output. Instead, you have to give half of them grades above a 3.0, and half of them grades below a 3.0 (and the same is true if you have a class of dummies: half of them have to get grades above that 3.0). Yes, it is exactly as stupid as it sounds.

No one has presented me with the pedagogical justification underlying this scheme. I suspect that there isn’t one. I’d guess that the reason for imposing a forced curve has more to do with helping biglaw firms make easier hiring decisions, but what do I know?

Well, one thing I know is that the forced curve creates an enormous pressure on professors to behave in strange ways. Since you have this artificial constraint on your grading, you’ve got to come up with some creative ways to make the problem not yours anymore (I heard a professor say out loud, using actual words, that he wanted to create his exam questions in such a way as to force us to separate ourselves in answering them. My question (that I asked not-out-loud, but only in my head and now in print) is this: why should we do that? Isn’t our job to, you know, learn the law? Why do you need us to distinguish ourselves for you? Why don’t you just teach us what you want us to know, then find a way to determine who among us have learned it? But I really know why: (all together now) The. Forced. Curve. That’s why). 

So they hide the ball. They create strange exams that put a heavy emphasis on a rote recitation of statutes and place an exacting stricture on organization (your analysis must follow your statement of the rule, never precede it. And, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that organization. It looks like this: “Consuming alcohol is illegal for persons under the age of 21. Since Rebecca was nineteen at the time of the incident, and since she consumed alcoholic beer, she violated the statute.” But is it qualitatively better than this version: “Since Rebecca was nineteen at the time of the incident, and since she consumed alcoholic beer, she violated the statute, which holds that consuming alcohol is illegal for persons under the age of 21.”? I submit that it is not).

But they have to do shit like this, because at good law schools most of the people are smart, and most of them are good writers, and most of them can learn statutes and most of them can apply the law to new sets of facts. The one thing that can’t ever happen, though? Most of them can’t get good grades.

So just roll with it. You can’t change it, and you'll only go crazy if you try to reason your way through it. Instead, remember that it’s all a game. Just don’t you ever forget that. 

Questions? Comments? Complaints? Post them below, or shoot me an email.

Be good to one another, for we need it now more than maybe ever,


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