(But it is not a bad experience.)
I should really say that Law School can be hard, tedious and long but conditionals lack punch in headlines.
Brute force memorisation of the common law principles of the Scots Law of Contract before an exam is hard, tedious and long but once you know the principles a little revision will keep them fresh in your mind and, if you play your cards right you will be able to have a book near by anytime you need to use them again. As far as I can tell the intent of time limited questions is to provide a good way of eliminating cheating and to train students to think on their feet. It’s also possible that it gives those students who are just out of school a familiar format of paper – that of the exam you dive on as soon as the invigilator says start.
It’s a million miles away from the slow, inexorable image of justice and wisdom which the profession, especially the judiciary presents. The number of case reports marked with cur. adv. vult. (curia advisari vult) show that a great deal of respect is placed to deliberate thinking and not immediate answers in the search for justice but at the same time it is not so strange a strategy for the profession to, in the first year at least, train their pupils to be able to process a question quickly and sketch out a passable answer using learned material. It’s not so good if your handwriting may not be the neatest in the world (I excuse myself by conceding that it is rapid if not beautiful) but that is a fault I may only lay at the doors of my handwriting teachers in primary.
The mixed nature of examination is another issue, perhaps in a move to even out the success of skin-of-teeth exam crashers over the slow and steady workers who, despite working harder fail to produce the same results on the day of an exam as the stunningly intelligent or very lucky. We’ve all been in classes with the stunningly intelligent. My favourite stunningly intelligent classmate spent two years of higher and advanced higher having a laugh in class, going as far as (myself as an honest witness) banging his head against the wall behind him and then going on to scoop the highest mark of the year, in a private school, twice. A stunning achievement and one I am frankly very jealous of because it was a great class that I sadly didn’t continue after higher. I counted myself among the very lucky and every results day had pangs of guilt when I scored higher than friends and classmates that I knew had worked harder than me throughout the year. (Readers will be glad to hear that luckily, for my conscience at least, this trend has since reversed.)
The worst side of the exam system is that I, strangely enough, left the hall after the exam feeling disappointed that there was not more. For example, before I started university, I spent a fantastic sixth year learning as much as I could retain about Shakespeare but come the exam there was only one question on Shakespeare and that question only asked about one elements of two of his plays. I had 90 minutes, give or take, to show what I had spent a year of my life doing and I couldn’t help wondering if this was a fair exchange – a year for 90 minutes of questioning.
However, time planning so bad it has on occasion alienated friends has also led to me not feeling as much love for the alternative – the coursework assignment that is much maligned in university today. Oxford University has been reported as going as far as to use what sounds like heuristic analysis on pupils’ essays to check for cheating, and it is possible to gain an A in some university acceptance qualifications without ever needing to attend the exam, “merely” submitting stellar coursework. Checks and balances exist in the system but there is still a suggestion that there is too much reliance on coursework.
I disagree, if I didn’t get disorganised and put it off, coursework would provide the time required for a passionate student (remembering that some of law any school can be hard, tedious and boring) to really put the effort into proving their worth. It would also eliminate the advantage of the very lucky and apparently, according to a long line of educational research, disadvantage boys. I find this bad on a personal level but selfishness is not a reason to scrap coursework. I find coursework to be more stressful than flying, but only around the deadline, apart from that there is no endless past papers in front of a clock, no dividing clock faces up into essay segments like a hurdler timing strides – that’s not learning, that’s training to get the high score.