October 31, 2004

How I Became the Witch of CLS

by PG

I've already been told that this is impossible and should not be attempted, but I did want to poll De Novo readers before giving up completely.

Is there any polite, socially acceptable, non-outcast-making way of asking classmates how they did on a particular bit of academic work?

I ask because I got a grade that was wholly unexpected, and I would like to figure out whether everyone got similar grades or if the professor has a particular bias toward me or if he determines scores by throwing darts at the seating chart. There's no way to figure this out without finding out what grades other people got.

However, my curiosity is not so devouring that I want to make other people uncomfortable, and having been an underperforming student for most of my academic career, I'm well aware that the direct query, "So, what did you make?" can be acutely embarrassing. Maybe I could put up an anonymous page (online or deadtree)?

October 31, 2004 08:33 PM | TrackBack

I've been there, and I understand your frustration, but I'm not optimistic that the survey you're proposing will satisfy you.

Suppose the grades are all over the map. Does that mean that the professor assigned the grades randomly, or that some students picked up on something that others overlooked? Suppose everyone got low grades. How does that help you prepare for the final?

Have you attempted to approach the professor to see if he might explain why you got the grade that you did? Whether it's fair or not, chances are that you may have missed some element that the professor wanted you to pick up on. I'm not saying that this is your fault; he may have taught the material badly and buried the point that he was trying to make. The professor may be downright crazy; several of mine seemed to be. Unfortunately, you're stuck with him and you've got to try to figure him out before the final. Surveying your classmates strikes me as a diversion from that goal rather than a step closer thereto.

Posted by: Tom T. at October 31, 2004 11:28 PM

I read your post as meaning you did unexpectedly well, but maybe I'm mistaken. If this is so, then I'd say there is no acceptable way to query other classmates. You're just stuck, unless you really want to descend into that class of law students "obsessed with grades." Despite your desire to find out if everyone else did just as well (so as to mitigate your shameful feeling of accomplishment), please resist, and remain a sane human being.

And if you did badly, ask the professor. It's the only way to go.

Posted by: Matto Ichiban at October 31, 2004 11:46 PM

I agree with Matto. You may talk to your closest friend or two about it -- depending how he/she approaches the issue -- but bringing it up otherwise is in very poor taste, especially if you did unexpectedly well. And your classmates will laugh at the website. Or maybe see this and respond.

Posted by: Simon at November 1, 2004 06:26 AM

Apologies for assuming it was a bad grade. Still, if it was an unexpectedly good grade, you might benefit from talking to the prof, so that you can figure out what elements of your work should be replicated on future assignments.

Posted by: Tom T. at November 1, 2004 08:32 AM

Ask the professor for the grade distribution. Usually they'll give that up. And you can tactfully ask friends about grades, but people that aren't friends aren't going to answer your question, and all that will happen by asking such people is that a) your reputation will decline and b) you still won't have the information you seek.

Posted by: Donald at November 1, 2004 08:36 AM

Go to the source-- the professor. At best, asking other students about their grades will provide you with only a statistically inadequate sampling of outcomes, and it is unlikely that your classmates have much insight into the mind of your professor. At worst, you will insult fellow students, elicit untruths regarding their grades, and still be left without real understanding about the professor's expectations and grading policy.

First, re-read the syllabus (assuming you received one at the beginning of the course) to refresh your memory on the stated grading policy.

Second, visit the professor, armed with the syllabus and the graded material. You may safely inquire as to the professor's conformity with or divergence from the stated policy; grade distribution in your class or section; whether your class or section's performance was consistent with that of the professor's other classes or sections; and what constitutes excellence in the sort of material that was graded (e.g., if a paper, how were such elements as grammar, proper citation, logical construction, etc., weighted?). Some law schools adhere rigorously to grading curves, while others permit more latitude-- your professor is a good resource to understand your law school's academic dynamics.

Most professors sincerely want their students to perform well. Many will welcome an opportunity to talk with a student. If your conversation goes well, the professor may disclose additional helpful tips to enhance your performance.

Here's to (I hope) your AmJur/CALI Award! Good luck.

Posted by: Ereshkigal at November 1, 2004 07:15 PM

I find that when I start the conversation with "I got a freakin' C-minus on that paper," people are willing to tell me how they did.

Posted by: wingsandvodka at November 1, 2004 07:30 PM
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