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December 22, 2010

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Orin Kerr

Yes, this has happened to me. The practical result was that most of the scores to that question were quite similar, and that any differences in scores to other more difficult questions were the ones that made the difference in grade when I put the raw scores into the curve.

David S. Cohen

Did you consider trying to normalize the distributions of the various exam questions? I've never done that, but I've heard of folks who do so as to make each question actually count the amount that the prof said it would count. If one question winds up have much less differentiation than another, that one question becomes minimized whereas the other takes on much more significance. As I said, I've never done this, but there's something that seems theoretically sound about it.

Orin Kerr

I think it is an unsound approach, actually. The goal of my grading is to report my assessment of a student's lawyerly ability. If a question is too easy, and the answers are all pretty similar, any slight differences in the scores are not generally related to lawyerly ability. Rather, the slight differences in score are likely to be caused by random chance. If you normalize the distributions of the exam questions, you take the random chance that has no connection to lawyerly ability and make that random chance a significant part of the grade. That seems backwards to me, as it increases the randomness of the grade.

Normalization is very important when you're putting together mixed types of responses: For example, if you have a multiple choice section, and you've announced that the section is X percent of the grade, you need to normalize the curves between the multiple choice and essay sections. But I don't think it works within a particular type of response such as essays.

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If one question winds up have much less differentiation than another, that one question becomes minimized whereas the other takes on much more significance. As I said, I've never done this, but there's something that seems theoretically sound about it.

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