Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Testing Secured Transactions

When I went to Vanderbilt law school some years ago, I had Professor Margaret Howard for Secured Transactions. Professor Howard gave us a multiple choice final examination that I recall had elements of short answer format as well. When I’ve taught Secured Transactions in the past, I’ve nearly always given the traditional long format essay exam. But, I’ve not taught Secured Transactions in a few years, so I am revisiting this as I am thinking about this Spring’s rapidly approaching exam. I am leaning toward using a short answer examination for Secured Transactions.

Of course, what do lawyers really need to know about U.C.C. Article 9? Not that they haven’t been taught a great deal in class, but testing forces professors and students alike to give thought to focusing on key issues. It would seem at the least that students must understand the basics of classifying collateral, creating a security interest, perfecting the security interest and sorting out priorities. But then, there are plenty of other good things to learn as well. Should students really know how the “rebuttable presumption” test works for non-complying sales? What should they know about the treatment of inventory that is leased to a lessee where the lessor’s lender has a security interest in the collateral?

Lynn Daggett’s recent article All of the Above: Computerized Exam Scoring of Mulitple Choice Items Helps To: (A) Show How Exam Items Worked Technically, (B) Maximize Exam Fairness, (C) Justly Assign Letter Grades, and (D) Provide Feedback on Student Learning in the recent volume of the Journal of Legal Education makes the pitch for multiple choice generally, but not in the context of commercial law. The most persuasive argument is the ability to have data showing areas where students either mastered the material (or didn’t). Kenney Hegland’s 2006 article On Essay Exams also in the Journal of Legal Education takes the opposite stance. Hegland makes a pretty good case that exams not only evaluate, but also teach. This, of course, is better done with essay format.

The merits of both Daggett’s and Hegland’s arguments are easy to see, but are there reasons to prefer one over the other for commercial law? With the breadth of code provisions, it is tempting to use multiple choice questions in commercial law. In fact, I have used a partial multiple choice format when teaching Sales. But even in this class, I share Hegland’s desire to teach and a general commitment to having students carefully work analysis. The breadth of issues with Secured Transactions would make it easy to weave a single long fact pattern of a transaction in its entirety from the creation of the security interest to default and repossession by a lender. There would certainly be plenty for all students to write about in such a case. But, I find myself drawn to a format that might use the same transaction in a format that breaks it down to shorter 20-30 minute segments. This approach, I believe, would require students that might otherwise skip over difficult code issues to have to take them up because they are set out as separate grading items. There is also a greater potential for using variations on the fact patterns with this format, which is especially helpful for drawing out code nuances. Like Daggett, I like knowing which areas of Article 9 the students had more difficulty with on the examination. But, I am not quite willing to commit to giving the students a pass on explaining their analysis.

For any of you also mulling this over, several other articles that you might want to look at (though not specifically about commercial law) are:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I use a MC exam for Payment Systems, and I've really enjoyed the benefits of that format in that class. The various systems are largely unrelated, and I can test broadly, accurately, and validly. In my view, the key to Payment Systems is knowing "the answer" to a motley of potential rule-scenarios, not tying various areas together. MC works well for this.

In Secured Trans, in contrast, issue spotting and tying together is key, in my view. MC works less well for testing this--I don't want to give away the issue(s) up front, and I want the student to show me the math (particularly, e.g., for continuing perfection in a chain of proceeds, 9-315(c)-(d)). For that reason, I have never used (and probably never will use) MC questions in Secured Trans.

Margaret Howard is one of my favorite people in the whole world, by the way, so if she uses MC for Secured Trans, maybe I'll reconsider my position . . . .

Jason Kilborn