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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Best Grade in the Class

In most law schools these days, you have the option of writing your exams in a blue book or typing them on a laptop that you bring to the exam. I strongly advise everyone that can type to type your exam answers rather than write them. If you can’t type, go take a typing class and learn how.  It’s more important than you might think.

Some of you that have taken law school exams probably have had the experience that I had in 1994, with my “Wills and Trusts” class exam. After walking out of that exam, I thought to myself: “That is the greatest exam performance I have ever had. I am going to book this exam.” Booking an exam is the term used for having the highest score in the class on the exam. I really thought I had. I knew the material backwards and forwards. I understood every question clearly, spotted every issue. I nailed the answers, both in information and form.

Or so I thought. When I got the grade back, I was stunned. I received a six on a nine point scale that our law school used—the equivalent of a B minus—and while it was still slightly above the curve, it was the worst grade I would ever receive in law school. I couldn’t believe it. Worse, I couldn’t understand it. How did that happen?

Fast forward to the last exam I ever took in law school, in my Advanced Constitutional Law class. I took the class because I really liked the professor, understood where he was coming from, and as I had already had an independent study readings class with him, I already knew the material he was covering in the class. I thought this was another reasonable shot at a “nine”

– the highest grade possible on the University of Nebraska Law College’s zero-nine point scale, with usually none or only one nine given out in any particular class.

So I cruised through the class like I was on air and totally nailed the exam. The question the professor asked was on an area of constitutional law that I happened to know very well due to a personal interest of mine. I couldn’t have done any bett er on an exam than I did that day.

Well, you are probably guessing something went wrong.

You would be correct. A few days before graduation, I received a phone call from the Associate Dean of the law school. She is a good person and I think pretty highly of her. But this particular Dean holds the position in the law school that is akin to the Vice Principal in high school. If you need to be passing a class in order to graduate, you don’t want to get a phone call from her a few days before graduation.

“Gary, Dean Walker here.”

“Oh, Hi, Dean Walker, how are you?” (read: “Uh oh.”)

“There is a problem.”

“Uh, . . .” (read: “I need to go to the bathroom.”)

“Professor Johnson9 is refusing to read your exam.”

“Why?

“He can’t read your handwriting.”

“Really?”

“I am not sure what to do.”

“Uh, stammer, but, stammer, tap dance. . . “

“Here is what I am thinking. Can you come in to my office and dictate the exam to a staff member here? She will type it up and we will give it to Professor Johnson and see if he will read it. When can you come in?”

“Uh, how about RIGHT NOW.”

At that moment I drove at unreasonable speeds directly to the Dean’s Office. I read the exam answer word for word. It sounded fantastic, like I had taken a week to write it. Everything flowed perfectly and was spot on.

And sure enough, I booked the exam. In fact, I received a $500 award that was endowed for the person that received the highest grade in that class each year. My name is now on a plaque in the law school associated with that award, announcing to everyone that I booked the class. Gratefully, the plaque leaves out the story about how I just about failed the class and tubed my graduation, tanked my summer start with my judicial clerkship, and ruined my life, because my bad handwriting finally caught up with me.

That Con Law class turned out okay. But this thought occurred to me soon after this happened, and has haunted me since then: maybe that explains what happened with that “Six” in “Wills and Trusts.” Maybe my knockout exam in that class really was a knockout, but poor Professor Probate simply couldn’t read my brilliant exam. It haunts me, because if I had received a “Nine” in that class like I thought I was going to, or even an “Eight,” I might very well have graduated number one in my class.

I admit it. It was about 15 years ago, and I can’t let it go.

Punch line: Type your exams. If you follow my advice you are going to be a lot bett er prepared for your exams than most of the people in your class. Don’t dribble your advantage down your leg with bad handwriting.

One Comment

  1. Posted June 4, 2014 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    Or, if you can’t type, for godsake PRINT! A lot more than class grades have been ruined by what’s called “Cursive” these days.

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