BARbaric Grading System

Olanrewaju Adesola Onadeko Esq, DG Nigerian Law School

Olanrewaju Adesola Onadeko Esq, DG Nigerian Law School

First of all, there wasn’t a 71% fail rate at the last Bar Finals. The Council of Legal Education has provided a comprehensive breakdown of the results here. The truth is closer to a 50/50 split. Given that this rumoured fail rate was what led to the outcry and a call from several corners for the grading system at the Nigerian Law School to be reviewed, perhaps that should simply be the end of the matter.


However, as a corollary to the argument that high failure rates warrant a review of the system (or perhaps in conflation of the issues), there have also been arguments against the grading system that is supposedly used for the Nigerian Bar exams. I am tempted to call the system an urban legend because you won’t find it written anywhere. However, several tutors at the various law school campuses over the years have explained that a student’s final grade is usually the lowest score in any of the 6 exams written to qualify. In simpler terms, if the student is graded a 1st Class in 5 papers but scores a Pass in the 6th, the School will award him a Pass degree certificate. Allegedly. But we will assume that is the case for the purpose of this discussion.


Many have argued that this system is unfair, including my learned friend Orji Uka, here. I disagree, for the reasons that follow.


The sum of most of the disagreement seems to be that the system is unfair because it is unfair. How can it be fair to grade a student on the basis of his worst paper? Others have gone on to say that an average grading system is more reflective of the student’s ability, and that no other jurisdiction appears to grade law school students the Nigeria does. Mr. Uka’s article also echoes the sentiment that the exams put way too much pressure on students, with many not replicating the good grades they got at university (I dispute that, by the way).


Well, boo frickin’ hoo!


My take is that it’s a professional exam, for a profession in which people’s lives and futures are in your hands, where competence is the difference between a conviction for murder and one for unlawful homicide. I’d rather view the grading system as a quality assurance method for employers, separating the cream of the cream from the rest. If the system truly exists, then everyone who’s ever gotten a first class certificate at the Law School deserves immense respect. I also had a boss, Senior Advocate, who used to admonish “you’re only as good as your last mistake”. The real world is unforgiving and mistakes can be costly.


Secondly, again assuming the system exists, I don’t understand how a system that has been defined by a body of professionals and applied uniformly to the vast majority of the professional body can be unfair. Who is it unfair to? All law students past and present, those who passed and otherwise? At any rate, everyone learns about the grading system very early into the session, most even before the session resumes. You knew what you were signing up for.


Thirdly, the Council of Legal Education publishes a compendium of past questions and model answers. This is the most legal “expo” in the world!!! I bet very few of the foreign jurisdictions we’re comparing ourselves to do this. Furthermore, a large majority of the questions are repeated year on year. If you start with the compendium early enough, attend your classes and take notes, it should take sickness or personal tragedy to throw you completely off your game.


Fourthly, I do not think that the system disrupts university results to any degree of significance. I am fairly confident that most that leave the Law School with a first class were awarded either a first or a 2:1 at university. There are also some 2:2 university graduates that earn a 2:1 at Law School. However, very few 2:2s if any go on to earn firsts at Law School. I would say, from the evidence from my set and those immediately preceding and following, that people generally maintain their university standards at the Law School.


Fifth, the truth is that many get to the Law School and either lose their way, or think that university methods will work for them one last time. At university, there is the fallback of continuous assessment to rely on – and your exam would only count for 60% of your final grade. So, many could afford to leave studying until the month before exams. Anyone who tries this at the Law School is destined to fail. The work is more voluminous at the latter and the exams are stacked 6 days in a row. You simply cannot afford to leave serious studying till late, trysts at Amudolak Hotel notwithstanding. *Bwari Campus people know what I’m talking about.*


Finally, as long as we’re having a conversation, we might also want to talk about the standard of [legal] education in Nigeria. The reason why lawyers used to be called “The Law” with reverence , was because lawyers were renowned for speaking and writing proper English all the time, being widely read and knowledgeable, possessing impeccable manners and noble carriage, they were discreet and generally being better than allayou… (apologies to DavidO).


This is clearly no longer the case. When I was at the Law School, the civil procedure lecturer told how they had also included grammar in the marking scheme for the previous year, but had to ditch it because of it’s impact on pass rates. I would later find out that she was not exaggerating. Letters come in from the law offices of the more boisterous senior lawyers, and you simply wonder. I see many of my colleagues on social media trading barbs and descending into roforofo with other people online. These are all not good enough.


To conclude, I do not think a year of an unusually high failure rate should warrant revamping the whole system. I think the students should look inwards and urge anyone who is convinced they could not have failed to recall their scripts. If you go back to the statistics released by the Council of Legal Education, I think the fact that the bulk of the failures came from those taking either one paper or the entire exam again, supports my point of view.


8 thoughts on “BARbaric Grading System

  1. This is a good piece but pls, I don’t understand this part ‘the fact that the bulk of the failures came from
    those taking either one paper or the entire exam
    again, supports my point of view’.

    However sir, i’m still of the opinion that the grading system needs to be reviewed and i’m not saying this because i failed, (I had a 2.1). Then I think there’s a great need for the CLE to work with the NUC in supervising law faculties to ensure the quality of graduates that move on to the law school.

    Not to be forward sir, pls if you know any firm taking NYSC placements kindly do inform us. Thank you


  2. This is a beautiful article that captures the actual situation of things. Although, my trysts in Amudolak and Park Place were quite notorious; I read like my life depended on it. Used a combination of coffee and Power Horse energy drink to go weeks without sleeping (hooked on both till date).

    Another angle, Tex failed to mention is that several students come to the Law School with the mindset that all they need is a pass and they shall be called to the Bar. This is correct; but the extant implication is that they only prepare enough to hope to get that pass; and most of often than not, that level of preparation is a guarantee for failure.

    In the immortal words of Reuben Abati, after he took the Bar Finals: “Lawyers are the only people who still study. That is the most difficult exam(ination) in Nigeria!”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve considered, in the last few days commentaries on the just released results. Most of them, I must agree are quite sentimental and hardly addresses most of the objective issues raised by the failure rate.
    I won’t deny the extent of distraction students succumb to as I am currently in the system as it is evident that while some are struggling to imbibe a life of discipline they aren’t used to at their university at the law school, some have actually given up on the hope of making good grades due to the enormity of the curriculum.
    But I’d want you to avert your mind to some little facts. I go to lectures everyday and I’ve never missed any of my after-class tasks but my tutor told me in the middle of his teaching in class that I’d need luck in passing bar finals, I wonder what happened to being rewarded for hard work.
    Just as I’m typing this, I just came back from a lecture from 9am till 5pm where the tutor was half screaming her students down or eating up whatever esteem they’ve got as to how we don’t apply our cognitive abilities. She succeeds in teaching fear than doing her job.
    I don’t see these as excuses not to do well at the law school but there are huge adverse challenges working against the students at the law school which the school has done almost nothing to address.
    The students who sat for these exams claimed they were aware they would be writing a 60 minutes examination for 50 minutes just in the exam hall. You were part of the system, and you must be Einsten not to be thrown off balance after hearing such announcement.
    I reckon standards must be maintained, but what we fail to ask, is that, are measure put in place to actually measure up to those standards? The demeaning attitudes of our tutors make comprehension of such a voluminous curriculum an herculean task.
    It is going to be an adulterated thought process, to drop all the blames at the doorstep of the students, you cannot deny that the fault of failure in a department that shoots up to 90% is that of the students alone. You shouldn’t be surprised also that it was the same tutor I mentioned earlier who would rather question your abilities to learn than build it that mans that department here where the failure rate is most pronounced.
    Students should rise to their tasks at the law school, I quite subscribe to that. But the Council actually owes students a more transparent conduct of their affairs and providing them with requisite learning environment in terms of their lecturers and making walking on the coal worthier than putting down students and teaching them fear.
    You tending towards the Council alone made your arguments almost objective.


  4. Hi! I think it is important to get information from students in more than one campus just to be certain.
    I was in Lagos campus, and I can confidently tell you that I had not been officially informed that the MCQs would be 50minutes until i got to the examination hall. I admit I had heard wisps of it during the week.


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