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In Law School Exams, More Is Better.

Are ya done yet?

In the words of the Immortal Bard, “brevity is the soul of wit.” Brevity, however, is not the soul of law school exams, given that wordier law school final essays apparently end up getting higher grades. I am currently in my third year of law school, and I am not a fan of this phenomenon for a couple reasons.

First, it rewards fast typing. This might seem like a whiney excuse for some of my poorer examination performances, but hear me out. I am a relatively fast typist—I’ve been honing my skills since the days of AOL Instant Messenger. But I am simply incapable of putting four thousand words on a page in a matter of a few hours. On some exams, it is an undeniable advantage to be able to just dump your outline on the page. If you can type faster than your peers, this will probably earn you some extra points (assuming, of course, that you’re writing coherently and have a baseline understanding of the material). Professors usually say that they reward a student’s ability to prioritize the issues and recognize the most salient features of the tested material, but, at the end of the day, getting down every jurisdictional discrepancy or every possible twist and turn of an issue spotter is more achievable if you can type more words.

Second, building off the first point, rewarding extra words discourages the cultivation of good legal judgment. Writing briefs for practice is all about getting directly to the point and succinctly persuading the reader. If a practitioner tries to cram every single detail into a brief, the brief will lose its impact and become less persuasive. Judges don’t want to read sprawling, voluminous briefs. Now, obviously, law school exams serve a different purpose, but there are ways to use the exams to create more practice-ready attorneys. For instance, implementing a word limit forces students to decide which issues deserve more attention than others (this is my preferred form of exam). Moreover, a word limit levels the playing field and it doesn’t create the same mad scramble of clacking keyboards as seen in unlimited word exams.

With all that said, I’ve never been a law school professor, so it is impossible for me to know whether the better performance of wordier students is a product of the fact that they know more, or whether the added length alone gets them higher scores. It could very well be the case that professors immediately see through an examination that simply dumps all of the student’s knowledge on the page without exercising proper judgment. But, given the study cited above, and my anecdotal experience, I tend to think that this is not always the case. And that is a problem.