Lubet on Law School Exams

Professor Steven Lubet raises some provocative questions about law school exams. After recounting a story about how Chinese students chose to deal with a closed-book exam through brute force memorization (despite professor entreaties not to do so), Lubet asks the pointed question:

“So it is unsurprising that the Chinese students refused to embrace American law school exams. The real question is why American students put up with them.”

Student acquiescence doesn’t make sense to me either, but this isn’t a new complaint. We’ve heard grumbles about the deficiencies of law school evaluation methods many, many times before. However, we also know that every evaluation method is flawed at some level, and therefore choices between evaluation methods involve some tradeoffs. What’s the solution? Lubet doesn’t answer this question, and the lack of a perfect solution suggests that maybe the griping about exams is misplaced. As Lubet points out only in passing, grades on exams communicate surprisingly little useful information, yet we (mistakenly) treat them as scientific. Perhaps we would benefit by recalibrating our expectations about the communicative import of grades.