Law School Truth #1: You Don’t Control Your Grades

StaircaseThis can be difficult to accept, but it’s true:

You do NOT control your law school grades.

Consequently, you might as well not worry about them. Why worry about something you don’t control? It’s a waste of time.

But I Need to Get Good Grades!

I know, you need good grades. So does everybody else.

Unfortunately, law schools grade on a curve. This means you can be totally awesome, and write the best exam you’ve ever written, and still end up with a terrible grade. Why? Your professor thought all your classmates wrote a better answer than you did. Maybe an outside observer wouldn’t have thought so, or maybe they were only a little bit better, but it doesn’t matter.

If you’re at the bottom of the curve, you’re at the bottom.

Tough luck. Somebody’s got to be there.

Does This Mean I Should Just Give Up?

Am I telling you to throw in the towel and give up? Shockingly enough, no.

What I’m suggesting is that you focus on the things you do control, rather than the things you don’t control.

Factors You Control

In a nutshell, you control your effort. You don’t control the outcome.

If you make a reasonable study plan, work hard, work smart, and write the very best exam answer you can, that’s enough. In fact, it’s all you can do.

Just consider:

  • your professor might write a terrible exam that makes no sense
  • he might reuse questions he’d already provide answers to and forgotten about (this actually happened in one of my 1L classes!)
  • your computer software might malfunction mid-exam (this also happened to me)
  • the exam might be so hard as to be impossible or so easy as to be a joke (happened, happened)
  • the professor might decide to save time and grade the exams by throwing them down a stairwell (only rumored)
  • he might never read them at all and will just assign grades based on whether he liked you (also happened!)

All of these factors, and many more crazy ones you could think up, could impact your final grade. And you have absolutely no control over any of them.

So What’s the Best Course of Action?

The great irony here is that you’re probably going to get better grades if you think less about them.

When you’re stressing about what your grade is going to be, you’re wasting time that could be devoted to actually learning what you need to know to get a good grade.

So, if you go to office hours, go because you have a question (not because you want to butter up the professor to like you). If you’re wondering “Will this be on the exam?” stop and ask yourself if it seems relevant to what you’re learning. If so, there’s a good chance it will be.

There’s nothing wrong with preparing for exams strategically (in fact, I strongly encourage it). But once you’ve done all you can to prepare, and set up the conditions that will enable you to make your very best effort, don’t worry about your grades.

There’s nothing you can do about them anyway.

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  1. Here’s a breakdown of my first semester law school grades and what I thought they meant, including my downloadable, final graded legal writing paper. It might help you:


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