Common Errors on Exams

Thom Lambert —  31 December 2009

I’ve been grading Contracts exams for the last week or so. This is where I earn my pay. It’s an awful job. The students take only one exam for the entire semester, so I really have to be careful to make sure I’m evaluating everyone fairly. Painstakingly reading and effectively ranking 75 three-hour essay exams is tedious beyond belief.

Adding to the tedium is the severe frustration I feel when students make the same basic mistake over and over. The one that really drives me nuts — especially because we went over the rule ad nauseum and I repeatedly warned the class not to make this mistake — is when a student says that a particular transaction is governed by the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) because the parties to the deal are merchants. Even worse is when they tell me the UCC doesn’t govern because one or both of the parties is not a merchant.

Ugh! I honestly don’t know how I could make it any clearer that Article 2 of the UCC (the part we study in the basic Contracts course) governs all contracts for the sale of goods, even non-merchant sales. Every year, I increase the number of times I make this point in class. I’m now approaching 500 or so repetitions. (OK…That’s an exaggeration. But I really do emphasize this rule!)

I suppose students make this mistake with such frequency because one of the UCC’s most notorious provisions — Section 2-207 — makes merchant status relevant for one matter (the question of whether additional terms in a written acceptance or confirmation become part of a contract). We spend quite a bit of time on 2-207’s intricacies, so this must be the genesis of the confusion. In any event, it’s maddening! (Though not as maddening as losing your students’ exams on an international flight….)

Do other Contracts teachers have the same problem? And how about other common mistakes in other subjects? Let’s commiserate!

Thom Lambert

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I am a law professor at the University of Missouri Law School. I teach antitrust law, business organizations, and contracts. My scholarship focuses on regulatory theory, with a particular emphasis on antitrust.

4 responses to Common Errors on Exams

  1. 

    I too have thought that 2-207 is to blame. It’s so frustrating that year after year, students get this wrong. I’m comforted a little by the knowledge that other teachers see the same thing. http://redlionreports.blogspot.com/2010/01/ucc-article-2-sale-of-goods.html

  2. 

    Not a contracts course, but when I used to teach introductory microeconomics I would similarly stress the difference between demand (supply) and quantity demanded (supplied). I would have three exams throughout the semester plus a final. I would tell the students right up front that there would be a question on every exam of the semester on this difference (related either to demand or supply). I would remind them in the pre-exam review sessions to recall this difference. And yet…

    invariably, 2/3 of the class would get the question wrong on the first exam and I would point it out on the review. Half would still get it wrong on the second exam, maybe 1/4 on the third exam, and still a handful would get it wrong on the final exam.
    At least the law students only have one chance to demonstrate their inability to properly remember basic ideas.

  3. 

    As a former teacher, I empathize.
    But it’s not how many times you stress it, it’s how you make it memorable.
    I’d suggest asking some of your students who are also into performing to do a skit, involving real money to demonstrate your point.
    Sounds corny, I know, but that’s what will make it memorable.

  4. 

    I say the same thing and see the same thing. It is a little maddening. At first I thought I wasn’t stressing it enough. I have seen some improvement over the years, but I’d love to see something closer to 99% on this point.