Exam Review Culture

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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6 Responses

  1. Kate Litvak says:

    I didn’t get it. How can a mandatory curve explain the variation in outcomes if there is no variation in the existence of a mandatory curve?

  2. Dave Hoffman says:

    I’m confused by your comment, Kate (probably my fault in the original post.) Maybe this helps?

    The difference is that there is no explicit mandatory curve at HLS and like schools i know about, and to the extent that there is one, the mandatory mean is set significantly higher than at other schools. As a result, students on left (bottom) side of the curve think “I may be on the bottom of the class, but I’m still getting a B, which isn’t a bad grade. I must be doing ok.” But contrast, where the curve’s bottom is a C, the relevant student says “Oh @#$@#. I must need help.”

    Does that help, or have I muddied the waters more?

  3. Belle Lettre says:

    I went to a top tier law school, and I remember in my first year being encouraged to do exam reviews with the professors–at least in my small section, with one particularly eager junior prof encouraging his large section to do the same. Thereafter, no prof ever brought it up, I guess the idea is that by your second year in an elite law school you should have gotten “the hang of things.” Perhaps there’s more hand holding first year?

    I’m now in a top 10 law school in which I haven’t heard any of this mentioned, despite the fact that 1Ls are allowed first-year electives. It seems so random without an established institutional pedagogical culture–perhaps some profs do suggest it, but it hardly seems de riguer here–I don’t even know where the Academic Support Office is. Perhaps it’s incumbent on profs who view their jobs as teaching in addition to writing (not a zero sum game!) to suggest it to their students. There’s a strong disincentive in elite, competitive schools to seek help from professors or academic support programs (and for minorities, that “stigma” problem). So perhaps if professors put it on the table, students would take it up.

    It’s a catch 22; the responsibility of professors to teach outside the classroom vs. the responsibility of the students to take a more active role in their education. Still, given the rigid institutional culture at law schools, professors would probably be in a better position to do this.

  4. Matt says:

    Surely one difference is that at top schools there is much less of a down-side to being “average”. Average students at Harvard several other top schools still get very high paying jobs most of the time, while the average student at Temple, right or wrong, does not. Students know this or can figure it out so many at top schools quickly don’t feel the need to do more than ‘average’ since they will still get the big pay day either way. In that sense it might be perfectly rational for them to not spend time doing exam review.

  5. Dave Hoffman says:

    Matt’s suggestion is plausible, but I think doesn’t exclude the possibility of the curve being a part of the story. The control would be to look at a top school with a low mean, and to see whether students will feel so sanguine about their job prospects. Even if employers are educated to look at rank, not grades, I bet that even top students in the bottom half of the class would realize that they are being out competed by their peers and seek help.

    Belle’s different experiences reinforce my sense that this is a cultural issue. The question is: why are some places institutionally bad at teaching, and others good (with noticeable exceptions by great or terrible professors.)

  6. Ivan says:


    I am student in Croatia(Europe). I have one question. Do you have subject called legal culture?