Law School Truth #2: You Are Not Your Grades

GradesRight about now, misery is descending at law schools around the country. Is it the weather? The darkness? The after-holidays bloat? Nope, it’s the bane of every law student’s existence — GRADES.

Are Grades Inherently Evil?

There’s nothing wrong with grades, in theory. It’s useful to be tested on something and see what you learned.

If law school exams weren’t graded on a curve, higher grades would tend to correlate with greater mastery of the subject matter. If you got an A- in Torts and a B in Property, for example, you could reasonably assume you needed to brush up on your fee simple estates before taking the bar exam (or buying a house). Useful information.

But, sadly, that’s not how law school grades work.

You’re not tested against the material — you’re tested against your classmates. And that, more than anything, causes grade-related misery.

The Problem(s) with Law School Grades

Law school grading is problematic for at least two reasons:

  1. It exaggerates small distinctions, with far-reaching consequences.
  2. It forces pretty much everyone to feel bad about their performance.

When you combine these two factors together, the result is a perfect storm of personal inadequacy. Even if you studied hard, and thought you were well-prepared, it’s unlikely that your law school grades will be as high as you’re used to. Some of them are likely to sting, at least a little.

Dealing With Law School Grades

I’m going to talk more specifically over the next few days about how to handle your grades (whether they were great, terrible, or somewhere in the middle).

For now, just take one thought to heart — You are NOT your grades.

It’s one thing to feel bad about a particular grade.

Maybe it was your favorite class, and you knew everything, but you overslept and missed the first half hour of the test. Or maybe you showed up on time and wrote what you thought was a good answer, but still didn’t do as well as you wanted to.

It’s a totally different thing to feel bad about yourself because you’re not happy with your grades.

Unfortunately, women are particularly prone to this sort of thinking, and it’s extremely damaging. Rather than thinking:

Wow, that test was really challenging and I did the best I could on it. I’m going to talk to the professor about how I can improve next semester.

most of us think:

Wow, I’m such an idiot. How could I ever have thought I’d do well in law school? I really shouldn’t be here.

It’s up to you what your baseline is.

  • Are you going to think of yourself as a basically competent person who worked hard and wants to improve going forward?
  • Or are you going to resign yourself to disappointment, because you’re obviously not smart enough to be a successful law student?

The choice is yours, but I’ll give you a hint — One of these mindsets is a lot more likely to get you where you want to go than the other one. Choose wisely.

Read On:

More about handling different types of grades:

Or check out Surviving Law School 101.

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  1. Thanks. Any additional practical (e.g. job-related, second-semester class related) advice you have for those of us 1Ls at the bottom of the curve would be appreciated.


  1. […] from any and all communication with your law school colleagues about the contents of the exams. Grades probably won’t come out until the end of break or even after the spring semester begins, so live […]

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