I ended up breaking my policy of not looking at my grades by looking at the ones that came from Bucerius. I wish I hadn't: I found that being aware of them made me much more petty and preoccupied about them than was constructive. They don't even count for my BU GPA, but I found myself sucked into worrying about each and every one, making sure it was fair, getting annoyed when it wasn't…
I was induced to do this because at Bucerius, unlike at BU, you could appeal grades and it seemed a little irresponsible to me not to at least look at them to see if such an appeal were necessary. For the most part I decided not to bother with an appeal. One grade sucked, but I knew I did poorly on the final so it was probably somewhat fair. Some grades were very nice (turns out I did do as well on my International Commercial Transactions exam as I thought), and most were sort of blah in the middle. Not bad blah, per se, just blah and not worth the angst of trying to nudge up a tick.
The grade for the German Law Survey course was (and is) a source of great annoyance, however. I liked the class, material-wise, because it was interesting to be exposed to all sorts of aspects of German law. It wasn't a class where one could develop any particular expertise in it, but it was nice to get some insight into how German law worked. The problem was that, from a logistical standpoint, the class was impossible. There were 8 subjects spread over about 6 lecturers. No one professor had any ownership of the course, and no two professors taught their material the same way. Some gave a few clues about what they'd look for on the exams, but it was still vague and uneven. For some subjects we were apparently to walk through an IRAC analysis (based on one two-hour lecture), while for others we were to just have an overall sense of what was going on. And until we saw the exams themselves, we didn't know which was which.
We were told that we only had to do the exams for 6 of the subjects so we didn't have to study for all 8, but I decided to study for all 8 anyway since I had no idea what each subject's exam question(s) would be like. It turned out it was a good thing I did, because I completely blanked on criminal law (whose lecture(s) I had attended) and had to do competition law instead (whose lectures I did not attend, but for which I'd found good notes to study from). It was a mess and ultimately one of the hardest courses I'd ever had to study for in law school. For most other classes the material blends together into one whole. It's not so important, for example, to explicitly study the second week's worth of lectures for the final, because chances are that material has been rolled into later material. Not so for German Law, where each class served as it's own discrete source of exam material. Meaning that you needed to attend, understand, and meticulously study each and every class's worth of material, with no idea or real ability to tell which parts would appear on the test.
Sensing that this class was going to turn out to be a logistical disaster, I tried to take it P/NP. Let's just worry about learning what I can and not get distracted by the administrative aspect. Unfortunately I couldn't do that because I had to take at least 6 courses for grades, and at the time of the add/drop deadline for this particular course (when grading option selections were also due) I didn't know that I'd be able to get into a 7th class. It turns out that I did, but at that point I couldn't change the grading option. The problem is that at Bucerius classes don't all begin and end at the same time. They have staggered starts throughout the semester, so each course has its own deadlines. Unfortunately that makes it impossible for students to plan prudently because they don't know which classes they will end up taking. I have discussed this problem with the school, and hopefully they'll change the policy for subsequent years so that students are not penalized for their inability to prognosticate, but this year we were not so fortunate.
The result for me was that I did well on a couple of the exam parts and abysmally on some others. OK, fine, that's the way the chips (annoyingly) fell. But my torts exam part was an enigma, with a mediocre grade that seems completely detatched from any realistic measure of my understanding of the material. I fully expected it to be the one subject that would give me the least trouble. I'd studied the material in another class, I'd even gone so far as to blog about it as a study mechanism… if there was one thing I was going to take away about German Law, it was how they deal with torts. Still, the exam came back with a B. A single solitary B with no explanation whatsoever about why that was a fair grade. While all the other exams had some sort of comments on them, this one had nothing. Nothing to say what was wrong, nothing to say what was missing… nothing at all. So of course I appealed it, but it was really difficult to base the appeal on anything since there was nothing to base an appeal on! I was forced to rely on ethos to say that it was likely that I understood the material, and without any other feedback there was no reason to doubt it.
It didn't work. They refused my appeal, and I have no idea why. Nor do I have any idea what was wrong with the exam. I could have a gigantic gap in my understanding of German tort law (which the B grade would seem to suggest) yet I have absolutely no idea what it might be.
Anyway, this brief foray into checking grades has further assured me that I'm better off ignoring them. They are of questionable value in measuring anything useful, and an unnecessary, unhelpful, and unpleasant intrusion into one's education. I had a great time in Germany and the program was a great addition to my curriculum. But the experience will forever be negatively tinted by these frustrations. I would have been much better off if I'd never let them enter the equation.
Edit 2/13: Apparently in reconsidering my torts exam grade I was given comments, which I received last week. Sadly legible comments are still somewhat lacking. I was able to make out the criticism that I wasn't specific enough, but I'm still not entirely sure what to make out of that. In this particular case I don't know what more I might have said, although I suppose there are some suggestions encapsulated in the other cryptic squiggles that came along with my returned essay...