Law students sign open letter asking for assessments on a ‘pass or fail’ basis

Almost 50 per cent of first and second year law students have signed

An open letter has been written by Part IA and IB law students in the wake of the Law Faculty’s announcement that transcript marks will be given for all papers.

The University’s existing policies regarding summative assessment require exact marks to be recorded, but the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) requirements for a law degree are satisfied by a pass/fail exam style. According to the letter “there is no reason why the University’s existing assessment policies should not be temporarily adapted” in this situation.

Reasons given for the preferred pass/fail style include:

1. Employer assumptions:

Although the Law Faculty has said it will not be possible for employers to infer an overall class from individual marks, the letter states that many employers already request marks rather than classes (and use them to infer classes), which “undermines the purpose of the University policy not to award classes.”

2. Wide scope for cheating and collaboration:

Signatories recognise that the scope for cheating is the same for pass/fail exams or summative assessment, but argue there is less incentive for cheating with the pass/fail system and less serious implications.

3. No Safety Net:

Part II students have a ‘safety net’, no-detriment system, but part IB students are disadvantaged because employers will infer possibly inaccurate classes from transcript marks.

 4. Employers do not disadvantage students with no transcript marks:

The letter claims that around 50 per cent of law trainees study non-law subjects and as many faculties have already cancelled their exams, it follows that a lack of a transcript mark for first or second years will not disadvantage them, so it is not reasonable to infer that part IA and IB students need official marks.

5. Other faculties have opted for formative assessment:

The letter asks “this same compassion be extended to law students”, as the assessments impose added mental strain during the “already stressful context” of a pandemic.

Inconsistencies in faculty approaches

6. Discrepancies in home environments:

A pass or fail system would limit the impact of discrepancies like caring responsibilities and inadequate working conditions.

Some students are more sympathetic than others.

The letter implores first and second year law students to sign if they believe the pass or fail approach to be better than the summative one. At the time of writing, 183 out of the 432 first and second year law students had signed.

Cover image: R Boed Flickr, Creative Commons License.