In the wake of the delayed law school grades drama, we’ve been confronted with many-a-proposal that would hasten the process. The problem is real, and at least one school has gone so far as to adopt an otherwise unthinkable approach: fining "tardy" professors. But, as Craig notes, fining professors is pretty extreme…and it doesn’t seem like that (potential) solution has caught on.
So where do we go from here? A commenter proposed one obvious answer: multiple choice exams. I had planned to broach the subject of whether multiple choice exams were appropriate as a means of evaluating legal knowledge, and with this recent focus on delayed grades, I figured what better time than now?
An increased use of multiple choice exams would undoubtedly speed up the grading process. Moreover, grading written exams is difficult on other levels for professors. Frankly, I have to sympathize with law school professors who are forced to read our vomit of (often incorrect) legal analysis. It must be time consuming, monotonous, and irritating. So, it seems that multiple choice exams present a win-win option: law students can receive grades in a matter of days (at least in theory) and law professors can avoid what must be a painful grading process.
However, in my opinion, multiple choice exams are a highly inappropriate method of legal examination. The benefit of receiving grades quickly does not, by any means, counter the inherent weaknesses of multiple choice exams. A law school final should test how well you identify issues and apply legal concepts. The ultimate conclusion is insignificant compared to the analysis that the student provides. Further, breaking down a legal issue into a multiple choice question assumes that there is only one correct answer when, in fact, this is rarely the case. And, don’t even get me started on the “A&B” “A&C”, or “All of the above” answers. It’s pure trickery.
I have had professors who swear that a student’s performance on multiple choice questions directly correlates with performance on essay questions. Some even go so far as to say that multiple choice exams are a better indicator of a student’s knowledge of the subject matter because essay exams merely amount to a speed typing competition. Others, however, have vigorously stated that multiple choice exams are better suited for the waste basket than the law school classroom. I agree with the latter bunch.
But the multi-state bar exam is multiple choice, so maybe my critiques are overstated. What is clear is that there are problems to be fixed. In the words of my colleague in a different context, "what innovative solutions can we come up with?"