Extreme Examination Blues.

The horror of examination season – we have all been there. Summer time to many is a time to unwind, enjoy the sun (unless you live in Ireland like myself) and even if you are working, you and your colleagues can have summer-inspired lunches and breaks. For many others however, summer is simply a season of woe.

Yes, should you be a student, summer stands for revision cards, mock essays, highlighted textbooks and frantically reviewing past papers. I graduated from Law School this past July, and I can confidently say that the final examinations of final year Law placed me in meltdown mode. There is something different about your very last undergraduate examinations. There is the added nervousness about degree classifications, the added anxiety of knowing three years of studying has suddenly boiled down to a handful of days of assessment. For me, it felt more surreal as I had been thrown back into the hectic studying of Law after a year abroad studying in the US. I had been studying Business to American academic standards, and no sooner had I adjusted to the American methods of assessment I was back at Law School. So the summer of 2016 was an important date for me. It was not simply to test my knowledge of my final three modules, or my endurance over the years. I felt that it was a test to determine my resilience between different classrooms in different continents, and whether I had made the right decision to study abroad for a year. To prove that I am the living embodiment of Murphy’s Law, the timetable of assessment from the Law school seemed to mock me: I had three methods of assessment crammed within two weeks within May. The balancing act between coursework deadlines and examination dates is never an easy one, but thankfully I emerged victorious at the end of May.

I had a hideous Law of Evidence exam to tackle, because in order to gain that longed-for QLD in Northern Ireland, Law students here must study Evidence – unlike their counterparts in the Republic, Scotland, Wales and England. However, not only I was buried under lecture slides and past paper questions pertaining to whether Brian had suffered entrapment by the police, or whether as a prosecuting barrister I could avail of bad character evidence, I was double-dosed with research articles. Between analysing the role and functions of human rights bodies to comparing and contrasting the Sunningdale Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement, I often found myself sitting in my bedroom and asking myself was all the stress going to be worth it.

And that is the question many students from all degree disciplines ask themselves: will the hard work and effort across many years of studying be worth it? Will these years of work be realised in the final examination period? There is nothing worse than working to a consistent standard over several years, and then stumbling at the final hurdle because of a particularly tough paper. I actually had a moment when I thought the end was nigh during the examination season this year.

I had prepared selected topics for my Evidence exam; I was reasonably confident in my predictions having trawled through six years’ worth of past papers, analysing questions and assessment patterns. So, brave academic warrior that I was, I opted to – Heaven forbid – ‘cherry-pick’ my revision around the pattern I had identified and in addition to my favourite topics. Students are warned against doing this, right from the moment they prepare for public examinations (I can recall a particularly lengthy sermon on the matter from my GCSE Triple Award Chemistry teacher). Students however have other ideas, which should be understandable given the scope of subjects to be examined in and the restricted time in which to study. I highly doubt I was the sole Law student who selected certain topics to study for this Evidence exam, which was framed around answering three questions, including at least one essay and at least one problem question. I had opted to study Bad Character (and, because I was lost to the examination madness, I kept saying ‘bad character’ to the tune of Bon Jovi’s ‘Bad Medicine’. I might have giggled at one point in the hall) and the Burden/Standard of Proof. I had prepared for both in such a way that I could answer problem questions and essays. I walked into the hall, steeled myself for my final ever assessment, and opened my paper when instructed to discover… Bad Character was asked only as a problem question, not as an essay and thereby diverting from my identified pattern which was of several years in the making. Ignoring the chaos in my head – I visualised having to resit in August – I soon discovered I could answer the unexpected Burden/Standard of Proof problem question in lieu of the MIA Bad Character essay. It meant I was going to have to answer two problem questions and an essay when I had planned for two essays and a problem question, but such is life. I was somewhat consoled by the fact I answered all three in good time, and later was to discover a group of students complaining they had only been able to answer two.

See? Examination blues happen to us all, and you cannot escape them. I passed my Evidence exam, passed m research articles and graduated. Despite the heart-stopping moment during said exam, and the stress and panic examination season generally conjures, I was okay. I was certainly in a better situation than the students of Lewis & Clark Law School in the US, who have recently been informed their examination papers were apparently stolen.

On 13th August, Law students at Lewis & Clark sat the MPRE (Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam) which is a very challenging and competitive examination. It seeks to test the applicant’s knowledge of the appropriate lawyer behaviour under either the American Bar Association (ABA) Code of Professional Responsibility and/or the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Students will spend months preparing and studying for this multiple choice question examination, which is a requirement in nearly every US state for admission to the bar. Most students will take the MPRE prior to their graduation from Law School. Some students will sit the bar exam in the state of their career choice, and will have to wait upon the results of the MPRE before they are eligible to be sworn in. So spare a thought for those students from the 13th August morning when they began to wonder about the delay in receiving their results.

The rumour mill began to generate: apparently an assistant Dean of the Law School allegedly left completed test materials in their car, which was broken into with the tests duly lifted. US Legal website Above The Law had received what it deemed ‘disturbing’ information form an apparent insider about a mysterious incident involving the MPRE test papers from that Saturday morning. The website covered the story and the allegations of theft. The website then contacted LSAC, the organisation that administers the MPRE, which seemed to confirm the rumour of stolen test papers. The organisation also indicted there was an ongoing investigation into the incident. Meanwhile, Lewis & Clarke were not available for comment and the students involved became more anxious and concerned. What a horrible situation to find yourself in: the uncertain mess of what exactly happened with a test you worked so hard for, and which the commencement of your legal careers rests upon.

The Law students in question were soon put out of their misery, but most likely felt increased frustration as a result. For by the 11th August, an email was sent out (at 4:15am, believe it or not) to all students confirming the theft. This email seemingly suggested that officials at Lewis & Clark Law School and at LSAC had known since at least the Monday following the weekend examination that the answer sheets from Saturday’s administration of the MPRE were stolen. The email did not just confirm the theft, and inform students they would be refunded for the examination. It also informed students that they would have to re-sit the MPRE as they would not mark any founded papers: “to protect the integrity of the scores, we will not score these answer sheets even if they are found.” And to top the whole sorry saga off, there is some salt-rubbing: the students fear their social security numbers may have been compromised, as they had to enter their social security number on their test paper.

I have to note the irony in the LSAC email when it states ‘to protect the integrity of the scores. If officials are so concerned about the integrity of test scores, however did they manage to have system in place in which papers could be stolen?

As Above The Law wryly put it:

But the potential irony of a professional ethics exam being stolen is almost too perfect, perhaps better suited for mediocre heist movie than real life.

Examination blues. We students – especially we band of Law students – have all been there. But the theft of papers and the consequential requirement of a resit? That’s extreme indeed. Perhaps my nightmare scenario of MIA examination questions isn’t so bad after all.

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