“I am writing to you about a serious issue that has emerged with respect to Professor Nzelibe’s contracts exam, which was held yesterday.”
That opening sentence no doubt caused a tinge of panic for the NYU Law students who received the email from Vice Dean Liam Murphy.
It turns out visiting law professor Jide Nzelibe administered a contracts exam that included two questions that were part of a practice exam he gave students at Northwestern last year.
Of course some students that took the NYU test had practiced using the old practice exam…which means some students had already worked out and discussed the practice question that ended up being a real exam question. Elie Mystal of Above The Law broke the story here.
The Vice Dean — noting that the professor’s recycling of questions was “a clear violation of explicit” NYU Law policy — asked students for their input on what to do, and suggested some of NYU’s options: 1) Do nothing, grade exam as is; 2) Grade on a pass/fail basis; or 3) Everyone take a new exam.
As Mystal points out, the best and most fair option is probably re-taking the exam, though that would sound like nothing short of a nightmare to any 1L who just finished his first exam season.
No matter what, it is unfair and it is infuriating when you spend hours and hours studying only to discover your professor took a shortcut.
Strangely, this exact thing happened during my 1L property exam. In my case, our property professor gave an exam that was part essay, part multiple choice; he lifted some of the multiple choice questions from practice exams. If nothing else, it seems like a good time to offer the students some hope.
Our dean decided to give students the option of taking the course pass/fail or taking the grade. In the end, we all went with our guts – those students who felt like they did not do as well as they hoped took the pass and those more confident took the grade.
We of course could not find out our grade before we made the choice, but did after. And nearly everyone seemed to make the correct call.
In order to protect the innocent, I will not name names. But one of my very successful classmates swears their whole life would be different if they had not taken the pass and instead taken what would have been, by a huge degree, their lowest grade of law school. Another, who had not seen the questions before the exam, knew they had done well and took the grade, earning what would be one of their highest grades of all three years.
Bottom line – this is not fun, and not what you expect from your first exam period. But if given a choice, go with your instincts. And rest assured this will not happen again; it only takes one incident like this for a law school to learn its lesson.
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