Assessment practices in law schools might soon be reformed after the Australian Law Students' Association (ALSA) recently called for an investigation into the link between 100 per cent-weighted exams and high rates of law student depression.
The peak body for law students in Australia believes law faculties could be doing more to stop alarmingly high levels of mental health problems among law students.
Jonathan Augustus, ALSA president, said this week that there was plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that subjects weighted on a 100 per cent exam and 24-hour take-home exams were contributing to high levels of student depression.
"There is a common trend among law schools all around Australia and that is the impact of subjects which depend on a single 100 per cent exam on student mental health," he said.
"I have seen students stay awake all night; I have seen students crying. Students have certainly suffered trauma and anxiety because they were so stressed they actually couldn't continue studying. It's certainly not the sole reason students are getting depression, but it doesn't help. We see no real reason why a subject needs to have a 100 per cent exam or a take-home exam," added Augustus.
The Law Council of Australia, which does not have a formal position on exam assessment, also has serious concerns about the benefits of 100 per cent exams. Its editorial officer, Ben Caddaye, told Lawyers Weekly that the council's own research indicated 100 per cent exams were an unnecessary stressor on law students. He said he was also concerned because "skill development cannot be achieved through 100 per cent exams".
ALSA is meeting with the Australian Council of Law Deans in March to discuss the depression issue in light of both 100 per cent exam assessments and 24-hour take-home exams. Augustus believes there is a growing consensus that assessment within law schools needs to be more evenly balanced between two or more assessments, with more emphasis on practical tasks and less on examinations.
- Luke Williams, freelance writer for Lawyers Weekly
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