Exam avoidance: The new motivation behind course selections

Exam avoidance: The new motivation behind course selections
Whoa, has this month been busy. Presentations, seminars, and papers have overwhelmed me, and the submersion looks to continue in April.

During moments of reflection when I surface for air, I find myself second-guessing the methodology I applied to course selection this semester. In the summer, I balloted for courses this semester balancing my interest level in the subject and other factors, such as the method of evaluation (exam versus paper) and instructor.

After first year and the first semester of 2L, if I’ve learned nothing else in law school, I can confidently say: I do not like exams. The aversion runs as deep as Sam’s distaste for green eggs and ham. Once a competitive figure skater, I used to love the rush, adrenaline, and pressure of competition. I was motivated to prepare during the months of training and practise for that one moment before the judges.

But, the process of preparing for and writing a law school exam? Not so motivating.

They’re the worst. The. Worst. Everything else in my life takes a slide come exam time. I neglect my apartment, fitness, health — all in an effort to dedicate time and effort to studying and reward myself accordingly. In other words: forget laundry and bring on the carbs! Endless hours in the library reviewing and relating the semester’s lessons wondering meanwhile what material will be tested, is gruelling.

I feel less guilty about putting a course syllabus ahead of the actual subject matter given the school furnishes students with all these details in an information chart distributed mid-summer. Variables such as the instructor, form of grade calculation (paper versus exam), day, and time of the course, can be carefully factored by students.

In the case of the University of New Brunswick, the information helps in part to navigate through the many required black letter law courses. There are comparatively more required courses at UNB than the law schools at Dalhousie University, Osgoode Hall Law School, and the University of Toronto, for example. Like it or not at UNB, five courses are mandatory in 2L and another two in 3L.

All seven are graded mainly, sometimes entirely, by a final examination. So choosing courses that relieve the onset of acute examitis in December and April feels a little more justified. Furthermore, balloting for a professor in these required courses that I think will more likely jazz up the monotony of business organizations and administrative law seems entirely valid.

I do wonder, however, if by giving a wide berth to practical but exam-graded courses like insurance law, real estate, and bankruptcy I will be limited in practice. I am a little uneasy at the occasional thought of how I would respond to a partner assigning me a task that requires some general knowledge through a class I avoided just because of the grading methodology.

“Sorry, can’t help you there since I took gender and justice instead. Care to chat about feminist ideology though?” I imagine saying sheepishly.

But similarly, I find some comfort by paralleling my strategy to the strategy of resolving a legal conflict outside of court. An exam is like a trial — you can prepare all you want, but once you step into the exam hall or courtroom, you cannot know for certain what will transpire. It’s a bit of a roll of the dice.

So, if instead, I can succeed for myself or a client by avoiding the high stakes of the exam or trial, respectively, isn’t that prudent?

Turns out, I am not alone. My friend and classmate, Bailey Campbell, is equally examaphobic and now combs through syllabi like a proofreader searching for a grammar error.

“Law school exams are the ultimate fun sucker of my and probably every law student’s life,” she says. “Last summer, I thought that I had carefully selected all my courses for the year and that my schedule would require no further tweaking. I was wrong.”

In December, Campbell revisited the angst associated with exams that she had forgotten from 1L.

“During Christmas exams, I found myself losing my sanity and frantically arranging my schedule for the following semester to avoid all forms of exams,” she says.

At the start of the semester, Campbell resembled a hyper-dater before the drop-and-add deadline, darting from class to class to inform her course selection decisions. She has no regrets.

“I distinctly recall looking around the library in December seeing panicked, sleep-deprived, and malnourished students and thought to myself ‘surely there must be a better way to test our knowledge.’ So, I deliberately enrolled in classes that continually tested my knowledge throughout the semester through papers, quizzes, and presentations to ease the pressure come exam time.”

Next month, Campbell will write exams for her two required 2L courses, submitting group assignments and papers in the other three.

For many students, side-stepping practical classes such as real estate, insurance law, and bankruptcy because of their gruelling exams, is a commonly-chosen route to graduation and making law school more bearable. For some, it’s a means of survival while educators to and fro over the “do exams work?” debate. For many, there are payoffs and consequences that likely will not be fully realized until we enter the practice.

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