The Dreaded Curve

The strength of my urges to go for a run, take a nap, and drink wine indicate that I feel the stress of finals. Like every law student, I have always lusted for academic success, but the stress associated with law school finals is different than the other exams and competitions I have experienced. Since most law school courses are graded on a curve, I am uncomfortable estimating how I will perform on exams.

Curved grades are meant to fight grade inflation by fitting student scores to a bell curve and distributing grades by percentage. Typically, the curve in law schools is set by a pre-determined median grade but the method of curving grades can vary by course and class size. This method results in most students falling near the median with smaller percentages above and below. This system certainly seems like a fair way of ranking students. A curve prevents professors from arbitrarily padding grades, it allows employers to more easily compare a wide range of students across schools, and it mitigates the results from exceptionally difficult or easy (ha!) material.

Some suggest, however, that this system may reduce the drive of those at both the top and bottom of the class, since low performers may be pulled up and high performers may be pulled down into the median range. In my experience, this is not entirely true because my law school student body is filled with competitive, capable and compatible individuals. We have already been tailored into a similarly achieving group where it makes sense that most would have comparable exam scores. The competition for the top spots remains fierce and the high drive of the group may justify “bumping up” low performances.

My main problem with this system is entirely selfish. As a student, I have always been able to assess and reassess my standing within my classes. I do best when I feel in control of the outcome. I naturally want to grasp a top spot, but it is impossible for me to accurately gauge where I stand going into the exam since I am competing against my talented peers. Additionally, exiting an exam with lingering uncertainty is not comfortable.

Still, I know that no matter the outcome, the students at BC are primed for success. The skills and resources gathered during our short time in law school are equally, if not more, valuable than grades. So, it’s time to buckle down, cross my fingers and breathe.

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