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December 09, 2004



I'm out of law school 18 years, and am amazed that they do not yet require that students have computers. There are liberal arts colleges with such a requirement, so I would think that any professional school, especially one catering to a profession for which the use of a computer is an absolute requirement, would simply assume that all students have computers.

Open book exams feed the competition among the students. If you have 24 hours to write such an exam, you are going to feel as though you are leaving a lot of time on the table if you do not spend at least ten of those hours working on the damned test. In that regard, they are more painful for the student.

You might well ask, who cares? The open-book exam burden is a teeny-weeny fraction of the work one faces as a lawyer -- perhaps if law school had pushed me harder I wouldn't have been so shocked as a first year associate.

It seems to me that the real issue relates to cognitive style, and whether you want to cater to one over another. Timed exams, open-book timed exams, and take-home exams all test different things. Some students are advantaged by timed exams, but others will produce the best work when there is time to deliberate. A good law school should impose some of each. All of one without the other advances the interests of one type of thinker over the others.


I'm halfway through law school and I've taken what seems like an almost equal number of in-class and take-home exams.

With in-class exams, knowledge of the material and preparation are key. There's a certain satisfaction in writing everything you can for three hours and then walking away.

Take-home exams frustrate me because the most recent ones I have taken (one I should be working on right now) expect and encourage collaboration and extensive research, thus requiring more work and taking away from preparation for in-class exams. I've never taken a 24-hour exam, but it sounds better than having three weeks to fret over the writing and research and polishing of a traditional take-home.

I'd much rather take in-class exams.


If it were me, I'd be very concerned about collaboration and the perception of students that other students might be collaborating.


I've only had one take-home exam, and it was 32 hours, not 24. Every moment of the exam was more relaxed than the moments of in-class exams, but there were so many more moments that I was stressed. I had a hard time sleeping that night, not because I had things to do, but because I kept thinking of ways to make it better, better, better! I have a 24 hour and an 8 hour take-home this time around, so maybe I'll have more data later.

Kyle Kaiser

Oh goodness, the debate will never end! I had very few takehomes (probably because of the issues you mentioned). I would suggest NOT having a 24 hour test-- because then it really can become a marathon, and students feel like they're expected to write a term paper or a law review note in 24 hours rather than do what it seems you want them to do -- relay what they know about the topic but in a more organized, and more legible manner.
Both of my takehomes at the College of Law (Prof. Bibas and Prof. Janis) were timed-- I believe one was 4 hours and one was 5 hours. Both professors stated, I believe, that the exam could be finished in three hours, leaving 1-2 hours for proofreading/traveling. But people with timed takehomes got priority for the computers in the library, I believe, so commuters would not have to travel if they so chose. (I could have gone home, as I lived on Oakcrest St., but I didn't want to be distracted by ANYTHING in my apartment, so I took one of the tests in the Law Review office.)
I did very well on one and not so well (average, which for me was one of my lowest grades) on the other. I personally didn't like them because the more restrictive the constraints, the better I did on exams, generally. But that doesn't mean the take homes were bad. In fact, they were both quite good (although HARD... but I think that had more to do with the profs...). So if all you really want to do is allow your students to type the exam and present their ideas in a more organized fashion than is usually found in the "stream of consciouness" bluebooks (or sans arrows and inserts) then I would suggest a shorter timed test. BUT make SURE that the test can be SATISFACTORILY answered in about 80% of the time that you give.
I think that alleviates much of the concerns above. First, you don't have people working for 18 hours. Second, there's no disadvantage to people with families (if they could have blocked off four hours for a four credit, in-class exam, they could block off that time for a "takehome"). Don't worry about people who don't have access to computers. Unless the College of Law has REALLY gone down in the last two years, there would be enough computers on campus for everyone to work.
Good luck!

Kyle Kaiser

Oh, and another way to equalize the playing field is to put a (reasonable) word limit on the answers. That way, even if you do decide to give an 8-hour or 24-hour exam, the workaholics would just be spinning their wheels on revisions, which wouldn't be that helpful anyway. Plus, the word limit levels the playing field between people who can type 75 words per minute and those who can only type 25. AND it helps to give the test-taker an idea of the scope of the problem. (I see that, because the question is limited to 500 words, the professor does not want in-depth analysis of every issue I can spot--I should talk about the important one and then perhaps mention the minor issues....)
I wouldn't worry about any cheating. Most law students know that they can't trust their neighbor's paper anyway, and while cooperation on issue spotting or structure may be beneficial, most students are way too wired at the time to even consider such a move (notwithstanding the ethical implications).

As an Iowa 1L who just took his first 24 hour exam, I'll say to you - if you give 24 hour exams I will NEVER take any of your classes. NEVER EVER EVER EVER!

Art Van Delay

I just finished a 6 hour take home exam and thought I should ramble for a while about this issue

I echo the concerns of the IL who just posted. I hated the 24 hour exam I took. I felt it was designed to take 10 hours minimum to complete. That is a lot of time when you have multiple other finals to prepare for. Perhaps I am skeptical of the reasons given for a 24 time period (allowing for commuting, children etc) because I have none of those problems...but we are in law school...I think everyone comes here planning on an outrageous time commitment and I don't know why professors should have to tip toe around some of these issues. Anyone should be able to arrange to have 6 hours of distraction free work time no matter what your situation is.

However, the 24 hour time period does not seem to solve the problem of family situations etc if those people also feel they need to spend 22 hours on the exam to match the others...they certainly can not reschedule those commitments for an entire 24 hour period if they can not find 6 hours of time to take a short take home test.

At first I was bothered by the fact that people really did spend 22 hours working on these tests, now I think that is ridiculous. Maybe that is just settling into law school and being less worried about what others do. I just see it as their loss. People are deceiving themselves if they really think the 15th edit is buying them that jump from a 75 to an 83.
The 6 hour exam was fine though. Yes it is more time than a 3 hour test but I actually had time to think about my answer and say something coherent. Additionally, there would really not be time to collaborate b/c all the time is spent writing...I don't think I would have gotten much from cheating, even if I were inclined to. I did not think either of my take home tests encouraged collaboration.


Am I in the minority on this?

I think take-home exams are, in many cases, far better than in-class ones, particularly for classes that deal in a lot of legal philosophy or policy considerations (as opposed to straight up application of rules, like an evidence class). They have been far more relaxed for me than the in-class ones, been more legible, better polished, etc.

The take-home exams I've written have all had page or word limits, which has really alleviated the pressure to work constantly. Even when I did have the exam out for the whole eight or 24 hours (I've done them both ways) I was able to knock out the rough outline of my answers in an hour or so, make some coffee, think, fill in the blanks in a couple hours more, make some lunch, pet my cat, alleviate some stress, edit the hard copy, pare down to fit the page or word constraints, check some email, give it one last once over, and bring it back in. Easy-peasy. I don't work constantly on them, but I do have time to mull things over and provide more thoughtful responses. I've done really well on the take homes I've written though, so perhaps I'm a little biased - though I've got to say, even if my takehome scores had been right in line with my in-class scores, I believe I would still prefer to take an exam home.

As for family constraints, there are lots of computers around campus, most of which are pretty quiet (or, if they get loud, it's nothing a pair of earplugs or headphones couldn't drown out). A tip for UI students, though: your student computer fees include free print credit you can use at any computer on campus - except those at the law school. For some reason, they don't allow you to use your free print credit, and make you pay for it, which I find singualrly irritating. If you were to go to the main library or weeg or the IMU or Papajohn (or anywhere else, really) you could print for free and have far more computers than are in the BLB basement.

To previous poster:


Watch your language during this time of the year. If you said those words in my presence I would probably cause you serious bodily injury.

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