Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Teaching to the Test

Kerry MacIntosh, a contracts professor at SCU School of Law, made an interesting comment in today's lecture.  She articulated her fear that many professors fall into a habit of testing the same patterns of material, and correspondingly, many students lapse into the habit of regurgitating the same patterns of information on exams. She questioned how practical 'patterned' testing techniques can be when translated to exams that break out of the pattern, i.e. the bar exam.

The bar is sufficiently intimidating to any first year law student, however, I am more concerned with how 'patterned' testing (and teaching) could leave students, such as myself, at a disadvantage in a 'real-world' law practice. 

There is no doubt that some subjects are particularly well suited to a patterned testing of material.  Torts, for example, is a particularly mechanical subject that many first year students write off as a subject that is only passingly relevant (similar to how many high-school students regard calculus). However, every student is going to see tort law again, whether or not they would like to...on the State bar exam.   Will the preparation of a 1L Torts class that concentrates around a patterned outline, be enough to scrape by on the bar?  I am not the least bit confident, as evidenced by my inability to produce a concrete answer to a relatively simple question from my uncle (at least I knew it was concerning torts...).  

Such a lack of confidence cannot be unique to myself, as it is likely a predominant reason why expensive bar preparation courses are so widespread.  Law students pay an absurd amount of money for school, yet many 1L students sign up for these pricey bar preparation courses before they even finish their first semester!

Perhaps a movement away from a patterned style of teaching/testing and towards a more practical approach to certain subjects, especially torts, could better prepare students to handle problems that present in law practice, and on the bar exam. 


ACorso said...

Remember the progression of non-association we were taught? That college is nothing like the LSAT, the LSAT nothing like law school and so on?

Maybe this represents the worst symptom of that pattern. Good points though.

Now I am scared, too.

Joseph said...

Hi Mike,
You may remember that I mentioned that I have a colleague at work who's fiance was a Law student. She has graduated and is planning to sit for the NY state bar. He told me that she is in Chicago this week at a bar prep class.

Apparently, the best value prep schools for the NY bar are in Illinois ...