TWO: The difference in the quality of the 1L exams between the fall semester and spring semester is amazing. The class GPA in my Contracts II class went up substantially. And I curve my grades, mind you. The grades still went up. Not everyone will be happy, of course, but the average showed a good deal of improvement.
THREE: In my experience, the quality of a test, for grading purposes, has very little to do with whether it is straightforward (read: easy) or more subtle (read: hard). I gave a straightforward exam in the fall, and a more complex exam in the spring, since the 1Ls were by that time battle-hardened. And each time some people got it, and some did not. Some misunderstood the facts, and some did not. And some came up with some really creative answers--in a good way. I love to see that on an exam. In other words, you get a bell curve distribution of grades every time.
In closing, let me say that I think testing with essay exams is very, very important. Clients do not present you with multiple choice questions in practice. The bar exam does that, but at the end of the day we are teaching people how to be lawyers, not bar exam takers. (They of course have to pass the bar, so multiple choice exams have their place in law school.) But I would be interested to hear what readers think about this. What kind of exams do/did you prefer? Multiple choice? Short answer? Essay? Combinations thereof? Please comment and give me some input on this. Thanks!