by Cory ’16
Hi folks! Cory here, reporting from 11 weeks into the first semester of law school at Northeastern University School of Law (NUSL). In my last post, I wrote a bit about the community at NUSL. As someone who moved from 2000 miles away, having a Boston community on which to rely was imperative to my success in law school. And in these past few weeks of high stress levels, this group of people has kept me sane.
But it’s not all bad – it’s good to be a little stressed. It keeps you on your toes. Like butterflies in your stomach on a date or nerves before a big competition, this stress factor keeps you alert. Why have I been stressed? Easy. The end of the semester is approaching. That means exams. And more exams. And even more exams.
… Okay. Cool. Exams. Every program has them. Great. We accept that we have to take them and we move on. No big deal. Yet for law school, there seems to be a stigma with exams. They are, in fact, a big deal. They’re make or break. Classmates literally pull their hair out. Others make themselves physically ill from the stress. Well, I’m here to tell you that that may be true at other schools, but not at NUSL.
Sure, everyone’s law school experience is different, but I haven’t seen a single NUSL classmate go bald over the thought of exams. Believe it or not, most of us seem to be pretty confident going into the law school exam season. Who woulda thought?
A lot of that confidence comes in part from the lack of a bell curve grading system at NUSL. Yep, you read that right. Read it again if you need to. NUSL does not have a bell curve grading system. It’s when X percent of a class can earn an A grade on a final exam, Y percent can earn a B, Z percent can earn a C, and so on (which is, single-handedly, the biggest stress-inducer in any law program). At NUSL, the grading system for 1Ls is based on a pass/fail grading process with written evaluations that professors prepare as part of your semester grades. These evaluations, if favorable, can then be used essentially as letters of recommendation when you apply for your co-ops. (More on co-ops later.)
The bell curve grading system may create a lot of individual stress, but it also creates intense class social dynamics at other schools. For example, a friend of mine in another Boston-area law program told me that she doesn’t like to socialize with her classmates for fear of accidentally giving them information on what could become a possible exam answer. You see, if she helps her classmate get an A, and the professor can only give eight A grades, there is only seven more available and the likelihood of her earning an A on the exam decreases by a significant amount. (She might be a little paranoid, but the competitive mentality rings true, nevertheless.) We don’t have that problem at NUSL.
Likewise, at NUSL we have many opportunities to learn law exam-taking skills or take a practice exam. On top of the academic support resources offered by the Academic Success Program, the 1L class takes multiple practice exams well in advance of the actual final exam. In my Property class, we take a practice exam on a given subject area we’ve covered in class every two to three weeks. This is very helpful for learning how to effectively structure your exam answers and manage your time efficiently. We also recently took a practice exam for Torts. It covered many topics we’d discussed in class (in other words, it was a doozy), but ultimately taking the exam helped us gauge where we’re at in our comprehension of the material and how well prepared we are at this point in the class for the final. The practice exam was scored by “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” – those who earned an “unsatisfactory” can seek academic support, but they need not worry about their grade at this point. The practice exam scores are not included in final grades.
With four weeks until exams and at least 100 more pages worth of material in each of our doctrinal classes to cover – Property, Torts and Civil Procedure – there’s a lot coming our way. But on behalf of the 1L class, I think I speak for everyone when I say it feels like we’re in a good spot going into exams. That’s why NUSL is different.