Is This Like, An RSVP Thing?

Last week was a MOOD. Fall “break” flew by, the bomb cyclone rolled through, and we hit the semester’s halfway point…I could literally see the stress leaking out of people’s (ahem…my) pores. Halfway through the semester means a few things. First of all, we’re expected to know some stuff and feel relatively comfortable in the law environment. Yikes. It also means the summer job search is in full swing (but luckily I’m exempt from that one). Most importantly, it means we’re halfway to final exams…a truly terrifying thought. Happy Hallohhh noooooooo.

My first exam is on December 10, in Contracts, which seems relatively far away but IS NOT. Especially considering many weekends between now and then are dedicated to holidays, mandatory training/trips, or Ben moving in (yay!) But I’ve gotten a few questions about grades and exams recently, so this new, Heightened-State-of-Law-Student-Tensions seems like a good time to discuss them.

As I’ve mentioned before, these final exams are the only grade in our four core classes. Legal Research & Writing is slightly different – that grade is a mix of participation, quizzes, assignments and a long research memo (which I’m avoiding as I type this). But here’s just a bit about those four:

LOGISTICS

  • The final exams are each three hours long
  • All are taken on computers
  • 3 out of 4 are taken in class (from 2 to 5 pm, which is terrible for this Early Bird)
  • They’re totally anonymous. I have a random ID number for each class, and that’s all the professors will see when they’re grading my exam.
  • Each final is scenario-based and answered via in-depth analysis. Any hopes that “if I pick C, it’s slightly more likely than A/B/D, right?” didn’t get past the LSAT. bummer.

GRADING

  • The grades (from best to worst) are High Pass, Pass, Low Pass, or Fail
  • Professors use their own grading rubrics, but we don’t see them. When I get a grade I have no idea what it means or how I stacked up relative to the rest of the class
  • From what I can tell, the school sets limits on how many “HP” grades a professor can give, but not on how many “LP” or “Fail” grades. [THIS BODES WELL FOR ME & MY FELLOW LPs]

Each final has its own nuances, based on professor and the nature of the class itself. And – in the BEST MOVE OF ALL TIME – the registrar’s office keeps a record of every professor’s old exams…straight on their website. Seriously, check it out – https://hls.harvard.edu/dept/registrar/examinations./(You can’t physically see them, they’re locked, but I CAN) I haven’t delved into the archives yet, so all I know thus far is either from other students or the professors themselves…

CONTRACTS

It’s open book and we need to know the Uniform Commercial Code. That’s literally all I know. But this professor has been around for about thirty years, so I’m sure it’ll be a solid exam. And by solid I mean very difficult but…equitable.

The nightmare that is American civil procedure ^

CIVIL PROCEDURE

I think this one is open-book too, and it freaking better be because I NEED THE RULES OF OUR FREAKING LEGAL SYSTEM. This class is just a series of rules that qualify other rules, and flowcharts of various complicated things that all intersect with each other. This professor is visiting from Virginia, so his exams aren’t floating around Harvard; HOWEVER, he has #blessed us with exam prep along the way.

He assigned his own textbook for class (a classic prof power move) and each section has multiple choice questions for us to make sure we actually get the concepts. He’s also distributed pieces of old exams at the end of various units, and is building them up as we learn more in the course. Personally, this is my favorite prep – it not only shows how much we actually are learning, but also HOW THE FREAKING PIECES FIT TOGETHER!

PROPERTY

This professor is the nicest guy ever (think: will cold call you and then immediately allow you to decline the call. Every time.) but I’m the most worried for his exam because property is a terrifying, vague, abstract concept. Also, he’s like the top U.S. expert in property law, so he is intellectually 10 levels above us at all times. But his old exams are all available through the library, so I need to take a LOOK.

LEGISLATION & REGULATION

A live look at coffee addiction. AKA, exam prep.

This is the last exam, and shout out to Prof Davies for letting us PICK OUR POISON with a 3-hour exam in an 8-hour window. (Of course, I initially thought it was an 8-hour exam and temporarily resented her but…I’m older and wiser now). So anyway, I’ll be taking this one from 8 to 11 on Dec 18 in the comfort of my own home. Mark your calendars and send all the good vibes my way.

This professor told us exactly how her exams work, which is equally great and terrifying. She creates a convoluted legal scenario, culminating in the interpretation of a law, and we use all the method we’ve learned to decide what the words could mean. We start with 0 points out of 200 and she adds points as she reads…which is so much worse than starting at 200 and subtracting. But she reads each exam THREE times to make sure her grading is consistent, and I think that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. 

CYA (as a last resort, of course)

Throughout the year, each professor has also told us about their “pet peeves” or joked about concepts that could “save” our entire exam analysis. If you’re a law student, these might make you giggle. Otherwise, just know that I WILL write them on my final exams as a Hail Mary.

  • Contracts: There’s a statute for that.
  • CivPro: PUT ‘EM IN STATE COURT, NO PROBLEM.
  • Property: Do NOT misspell de minimis. It is a cardinal sin. Also, drones represent the end of property rights as we know them.
  • Leg Reg: If you use Holy Trinity purposivism to interpret a statute, you will literally burst into flame.

And there you have it. We’re still a month and a half out, but believe me – these 12 hours will be the FOCUS of my existence in that time. More about how I study as we get closer…and I figure it out 🤷🏼‍♀️