As the new semester gets underway, there's a fair amount of grade angst at various law student blogs. Energy Spatula has a post that attracted lots of comments, wherein she bemoans her grades:
I worked harder last quarter than I ever worked 1L year, or in my entire academic life for that matter, and you know what?
My grades suck. They are stupendously bad. Not "drop out of law school to work at Burger King" bad. Or "They're gonna kick me out due to my total inability to learn the law and apply it to a hypothetical fact pattern" bad (even though it's true and they should). But subpar. Sub-curve-par. One or more standard deviations below the mean.
Granted, there may be some randomness to grading, but one thing I don't get is why students who don't understand why they're getting the grades that they do aren't going to the professors to look at their exams? [See Update 2 below] Not to try to score more points on the exam, but rather to see if there are some systemic mistakes that can be corrected. It may be that the student actually understands the material fine but is writing the answers in a jumbled, incoherent mess, in which case it would be relatively easy to improve one's grades: outline your answer on scratch paper first, then write the answer in the bluebook in a well-structured way.
UPDATE: An Iowa law school alum asks:
Also, although I am interested in hearing your view on the subject, I wonder to what extent Iowa's mandatory curve (especially in 1L) courses actually drives the exam structure, content, and grading.
I don't think about the mandatory curve when writing the exam, except to the extent that I always worry that the exam won't create a broad spread, in which case small differences in raw score get magnified by the curve. But that hasn't really happened during my five semesters of teaching, and I am constantly assured by my more experienced colleagues that they always get curves.
In fact, since I try to write my exams to have different types of questions, in some ways I complicate things for myself curve-wise. For example (as is clear from examining my old exams, which I make available on reserve), I usually ask one policy-type of question. It's possible that students who do well with the application of law to fact questions might not do well on the policy, or vice versa. (Or of course, they might do well on both, or poorly on both.) If all I did was ask one type of question, I'd be likely to see the same general spread of performance on each question.
UPDATE 2: I should have made clear here that I am not suggesting that Energy Spatula does not in fact check her exams. I was using her post as a springboard to make an observation relative to my experience as a law professor, and obviously that doesn't encompass her, since she's not a student at Iowa.