How Law Students Feel About Pass/Fail Grading Systems

A majority of law school grads are opposed to pass/fail grading systems becoming the new normal.

As law schools across the nation have adopted pass/fail grading systems, Kaplan surveyed nearly 200 graduates on how they felt about the adoption. 48% said they support the change, 41% were opposed, and the rest were unsure of what to make of it.

“These are unparalleled times for everyone and legal education certainly isn’t immune from changes that were once unthinkable just six months ago. It’s quite understandable that law schools have moved to pass/fail grading on a temporary basis since students are already stressed out enough thinking about how to stay healthy, securing a job, and prepare for the bar exam,” Tammi Rice, vice president of Kaplan’s bar prep programs, says in a press release. “Combining that with the naturally hyper-competitive nature of law school could add to that stress, adversely affecting students’ mental health. Students’ physical and emotional well-being must always take priority, perhaps now more than ever.”


In terms of having pass/fail grading systems for the long term, only 25% say they want it to remain, with 63% opposing it (and the rest unsure).

“It’s highly unlikely pass/fail grading will be maintained once the pandemic subsides. Students who are looking to work for top law firms or secure prestigious internships know that high grades help differentiate them from others vying for those same positions and most are loath to give that up,” Rice says. “It’s important to note that the pandemic is still a long way from being over and more significant changes to legal education, which already includes online learning, are likely on the way. Students should continue to make their voices heard and also adapt.”

Some law schools, like Harvard Law and Columbia, have already dropped grading systems for pass/fail systems.

While law students are supportive of the temporary alleviation of pressure, many recognize that the change may disadvantage students in the long run.

“We are pleased that students will not have to worry about competing for letter grades this semester and that they will not have to carry the stress of deciding whether or not to ‘opt-in’ atop all of the other issues that so many are struggling with right now,” Harvard Law student Juan A. Espinoza writes in a letter to Harvard Law officials. “Still, we’re sorry for how this policy might harm those among us who were really counting on academic successes this semester, and we plan to keep pushing the administration to articulate concrete supports for these students.”

Sources: Kaplan Test Prep, Tipping the Scales, The Harvard Crimson

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