Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

The Longer the Answer, The Higher The Law Exam Grade

examWhen it comes to taking first-year law school essay exams, it seems more is better.

Words, that is. A recent study found that longer responses are graded higher than shorter ones.

“There is a statistically significant positive correlation between the amount a student writes on a first-year essay exam and the grade on the exam,” says this story. “[T]he findings suggest that students who can read and analyze information quickly—leaving more time to write longer answers—tend to score higher.”

Students who earned a 3.3 grade on a three-hour exam could have boosted it to a 3.4 if they had added 923 more words, according to the study.

And it’s not a matter of how fast you can bang on your laptop keys. Typing speed was not a statistically significant factor in test-grading, researchers found. Students were rewarded for legal analysis, not speedy typing.

“If you get more words on the page, it’s hard for a professor to say ‘I’m not going to give any extra points for an additional three or four pages,’” said one of the paper’s authors.

The study, titled Speed Matters, can be found here.

Brevity is the Soul of Wit, Just Not in Torts 101

Researchers studied more than 5,000 first-year essay exam results from 839 Brigham Young law students over a six-year period. Only grades from timed exams were considered. The grades were measured against exam response length, typing speed, LSAT scores and student demographics.

One conclusion became immediately apparent: the longer the response, the higher the grade.

But that didn’t tell the whole story. The study also found that 1Ls with higher undergraduate GPAs and LSAT scores graded better – regardless of the length of their essays.

From “Students who entered law school with higher undergraduate grades and scores on the Law School Admission Test tended to score higher on exams even when they wrote responses that were the same length as their classmates with lower credentials. That suggests that the content of answers—regardless of length—still matters.”

In a sense, the results aren’t so surprising. Students with a proven academic track record did better on essay questions.  Those who might not have had stellar GPAs were rewarded for long answers that dug deeply into issues.

And there was no evidence that simply babbling incoherently for page after page got high marks.

The researchers themselves are cautious not to read too much into the findings. They say simply examining the relationship between answer length and test grades might prompt law professors to reconsider how their tests are designed.

“We need to think more explicitly about what our exams are doing, what they’re testing for and how we construct our exams,” said one of the researchers.

Are your essay answers usually long or short? What have been the results? Send us a comment.



About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

Read More by Jay >

Related Posts