I had a student send me a practice exam the other week where there were no capital letters. Ironically, I also got an essay turned in as a mid-term in another class where a student did the same thing. Recently, as well, I have received practice essays with glaring typos in the headers of an essay.
So I mentioned to my students that I didn’t recommend that they present themselves in this way on an exam. They each defiantly stated to me that they had been told that typos did not count against them on an exam. So it shouldn’t matter.
How You Present Yourself DOES Matter
I am here to argue to you that it does matter, for a few reasons:
- A law school exam is no different than an interview. I like to think about essays (or the bar exam) as an interview. It is a written presentation to the professor of how well you know the material. Do we wear sweatpants to an interview? I hope not! I would then argue you shouldn’t present yourself in a sloppy way on an essay exam, because it reflects on you and your professionalism. It is the same reason we wear suits to an interview. We are trying to present ourselves as professionals. Why wouldn’t you want to present yourself in a professional way to your professor?
- Law school is a professional school where writing is considered a key component of being an effective attorney. I believe that writing is a key skill for an attorney. I am not sure that I know any attorney who doesn’t use writing in his/her daily life — be it to a boss, in a court document, or in communications to clients. That being said, you must practice your writing skills and how you communicate through the written word. So why wouldn’t you practice this skill as part of your exam preparation? Why would you practice poor/sloppy written communication skills?
- Although you might not “lose” points, think about what a sloppy essay says to the professor. So yes, a professor may not dock you points for your typos, directly. However I am going to guess that when a professor said that typos don’t hurt your grade, he/she didn’t mean that you could ignore the basic rules of writing (things like capital letters). That means that if you have a typo (you accidentally misspell things, etc.) that it is understandable because your exam is going to be written under time pressure and you won’t have time to proof read. But I would argue that your professor is not going to think it is okay to not write in a professional way. It makes it difficult for the professor to read. It looks like perhaps you don’t know what the basic rules of writing are. And, in my opinion, it seems disrespectful. Why wouldn’t you write to your professor the same way you would write to a boss or to the court? Professors are grading you. They are making judgments about your academic success based on your written word. You would be foolish to give them any reason to think you are not brilliant, competent and deserve an “A”.
Bad Writing Has Real-World Implications
When I tell practicing attorneys I work with law students, the most common complaint I hear about young lawyers is that their writing skills are not up to snuff. Other professors even say that to me.
So I argue that as current law students you should focus on your writing and present yourself in the best way possible, whenever possible.
Especially in a situation where you are going to be judged on your writing. Because although you can’t be sure how severely your professor will react to an essay with no capital letters (I, personally, react very badly) — why would you gamble on this?
Just write like you would write in a professional environment. It is not hard to do, and it may be the difference between the grade you wanted and the grade you end up getting.
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