Saturday, May 17, 2008

Testing Secured Transactions Part II

My exams are all taken and graded now, so I wanted to report back my observations from my earlier post on Testing Secured Transactions. I ended up using a three hour examination with 30 true/false questions and five short answer essays. I actually offered up six short answer essays with the students getting to pick five to answer. The true false questions included all the basics of creating and perfecting security interests and priority. Topics on the short answer essays included: double debtors; new debtors; powers of the bankruptcy trustee; PMSI’s and general collateral descriptions in preexisting financing statements; and priority, proceeds, accounts and chattel paper. I must have had old-time television on my mind, as many of the hypos involved Gilligan's Island, Green Acres and Spiderman. Oh, and a little bit of politics thrown in too. After all, it was the "season" in Pennsylvania as I was drafting this exam.

The exam certainly was hard and rigorous from a time perspective. That said, I am a big believer in law school examinations serving the dual purpose of testing and teaching. I would certainly use this format of examination again. The true false gave me coverage of differing fact patterns, as did the short answer. The students had many situations to contend with, but also had to draft some short essays (typically about a page each) and cite to the appropriate code provisions. As for student performance, with a few exceptions, the students tended to do about the same on each part of the examination. The students who did well on the true/false mostly did about the same on the short answer essay.

Overall, I was also pleased with the quality of the answers given by the students. The rules of double debtors and new debtors probably gave the students the most trouble, but this did not surprise me. I find that the rules of 9-325 and 9-326 are hard for students to grasp (even with the examples in the code). But I did give the students a hint in the review session that these rules might appear on the examination. The next time I teach Secured Transactions, I will be mindful of my approach on these issues to see if there are better ways to make this easier for the students. With this exception, though, I am confident that the students do understand the basics of Article 9.

Most of my students this year will be taking the bar examination in Pennsylvania where Article 9 is no longer on the bar exam. But as these issues come up routinely in practice, the examinations give me confidence that they will be able to solve these issues when they arise. I would use this format of examination again, though it was a close call to pair multiple-choice with a long format traditional essay. I hope that you all had a good semester and have your grading done (or at least almost).


Jason Kilborn said...

Of the plethora of complex issues in revised Article 9, the double debtor and new debtor subordination rules seem to me to be at the bottom of the list in terms of importance, both conceptually and in reality. Do you choose to focus on these sections because you believe these issues arise in the real world with some frequency, because you believe they go to the heart of some conceptual issue in Art. 9, or for some other reason? I'm always curious about what others are testing, and I have never heard of anyone placing so much emphasis on these obscure sections.

Jennifer Martin said...

Much of my inspiration (and heavy borrowing of legal issues) came from old exams posted by Professor Avery Katz (Columbia) and from Professor Wilson Freyermuth (Missouri - Columbia). I would not say that the exam placed heavy “emphasis” on double debtor and new debtor rules. The true/false questions (one hour) worked over the basics of creating and perfecting the run-of-the-mill security interest. There were six short essays, of which the students chose five. So, each of these were about twenty-five minutes each. This exam tended toward pretty broad coverage, but did include some more complicated transactions. I do try to have some more complicated problems in the examination to help the better students to distinguish themselves. Could a good examination leave out these issues . . . sure. I tend to rotate some of the less travelled provisions on exams as part of the learning process and to prep students generally on how business transactions can become more complicated. Other complicated transactions would seem to serve equally well to accomplish this facet.