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Pass/Fail Grading in a Pandemic: How Does Pass/Fail Grading Impact Your Transcript?

The global pandemic, COVID-19, caused law schools across the country to move to emergency online teaching. Due to the disruption in the semester and the need to have class abruptly online, many law schools have adopted pass/fail grading systems. How will this grading impact your transcript? Let’s look at some different pieces of this issue.

Why Did Schools Adopt a Pass/Fail Grading Structure?

This has been an unprecedented time in legal education, where law schools had to move to emergency online instruction in the middle of a semester. Because of this, let’s talk about the two main reasons law schools changed to a pass or fail grading system.

Fairness Considerations

Not every student experiences the same consequences of the pandemic. First, law schools considered the health and familial impacts of the pandemic. Faculty, staff, students, and their families could get sick, creating a further disruption for classes. Second, law schools considered the differences in student resources. Not all students have the same access to a quiet learning environment at home, a reliable WiFi connection, or other resources necessary to be successful in online classes. Third, some students and faculty are familiar with technology and the online learning process, while many others are not. Law schools that made the switch to a pass/fail system believed it to be the fairest, most compassionate, and most equitable decision.

Emergency Online Teaching

Law school faculty only had one week, if that, to prepare to move their entire in-person class online. Such disruption and an abrupt shift, many law schools argued, made pass/fail grading structure necessary, as professors were not used to teaching online, there were technological challenges, and students were now taking exams at home without the security of being at school.

How Will It Impact Your Transcript?

An entire semester may have pass/fail grading attached to it. This likely means that your grade point average stayed the same as it was the semester prior. In law school, grades play a large role in employment opportunities and co-curricular activities such as eligibility for moot court and law review. Many students also pay close attention to their class rank, a number determined by grade-point averages.

There’s some good news in this: all employers are likely understanding of the need for pass/fail grading due to the pandemic. The places you are applying to have also likely experienced COVID-19’s wrath. Similarly, law school activities, such as moot court and law review, are likely going to consider only one semester’s worth of grades, while also considering an oral competition or a writing sample.

Finally, law schools also likely grappled with the negative impacts of the pass/fail grading system could have on students. Specifically, students who would have done better in the second semester than in first are disadvantaged by the inability to show improvement on their transcript. However. Many law schools will likely include a notation on transcripts explaining the circumstances.

What Steps Can You Take in Light of Pass/Fail Grading?

Get a letter of recommendation from your professors.

If you did really well in a class and do not have a grade to show for it on your transcript, ask that professor for a letter of recommendation. You can utilize that recommendation when applying for a job, and you want an employer to see how well you did in a particular course.

Meet with your professors.

Even though you did not earn grades, your professors are more than happy to talk to you about how you did. I encourage each of you to see how you did on your exams, to see where you did well and where you need to improve. So, if you are in a job interview, focus on the skills that you improved upon after talking with your professor instead of the fact that there’s no grade in the class.

Attend professional development workshops and seminars.

Students should always attend career-events, but now more than ever, it is critical. Attend workshops hosted by your law school about how to deal with pass/fail grading in interviews. Participate in mock interviews to practice your answers.

Focus on your next semester.

Just because you did not get grades does not mean that you didn’t increase your skills and performance. It’s time to try to do the best you can in your next semester to improve your GPA and to execute those improved skills. Let this set-back be something that motivates you to do better.

The only thing we can all do now is move forward. Focus on your next goals, and plan how you will deal with the pass/fail grading structure in future interviews. Start with taking the steps in this article, and keep working towards improving your skills and achieving your goals.

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