Ultra Vires


STEM Students Do Fine, Thanks

There is no difference in 1L grades by undergraduate program

Associate Dean Albert Yoon stated during the townhall that one of the animating concerns for the curriculum changes was to help STEM students who struggle with their writing. In a similar vein, in the SLS’ letter to the administration regarding Winter Semester Grading, one of the points of student feedback that had been raised was the potential impact on “students who came to U of T Law from STEM backgrounds, who might not have acclimated quickly to law school evaluations in the first term.”

Perhaps motivated more by professional pride than I would like to admit (having studied Mechanical Engineering in undergrad), and in classic STEM student fashion, I set out to see if the numbers backed up the assertions that STEM students struggled in 1. LRW, or 2. first semester. 

I used the Recruit Survey data from the classes of 2018-2020 (I was unable to use the most recent year’s data, as this year Ultra Vires separated the Demographics and Recruit Surveys). I roughly categorized students’ undergraduate programs as either Arts, Business, STEM, or Other (primarily interdisciplinary and fine/performing arts majors). Then, I looked to whether there was any difference in 1L grades as across these four categories.

Table 1 – Number of Students by Undergraduate Program

Class OfArtsBusinessSTEMOtherTotal


I have written elsewhere that perhaps LRW does not do a good job of assessing students’ writing quality. So, maybe I am talking slightly out of both sides of my mouth by using LRW grades as a proxy for writing ability. STEM students doing no worse in LRW isn’t proof that they do not struggle with their writing, but it would then either have to be the case that LRW grades are not reflective of writing ability, or that STEM students improve so rapidly during LRW such that any initial struggle is hidden by their overall grade.

Table 2 – Average LRW Grade by Undergraduate Program

Class OfArtsBusinessSTEMOther
20203.84 ± 0.613.67 ± 0.733.81 ± 0.463.43 ± 0.62
20193.88 ± 0.723.81 ± 0.703.68 ± 0.423.75 ± 0.92
20183.76 ± 0.533.76 ± 0.693.94 ± 0.504.33 ± 0.33

Okay, so what does this big table of numbers mean? Essentially, there is no significant difference in LRW grades when sorting by undergraduate program.At α = 0.05. Not even close.The lowest p-value was 0.43 when looking at differences in LRW grade by undergraduate program. LRW grades are essentially uniform across the board. STEM students may have poorer writing abilities, but this is not in any way reflected in their LRW grades. 

First Semester

Unfortunately, Ultra Vires didn’t ask students to identify whether they took a course in 1st or 2nd semester. Therefore, there is no way to assess whether STEM students performed worse in 1st semester relative to their peers from non-STEM backgrounds. However, I was still curious whether 1L grades were in any way predicted by their undergraduate program, even if I wasn’t able to directly address potential STEM student struggles in first semester.

Looking at 1L grades as a whole, there was no significant difference by undergraduate degree.At α = 0.05. In no year was there a difference, not for STEM nor for any of the three other categories. 2018 was the only year where there was even a slight difference, but it was for the “Other” degree category, which only had three students, so this is likely just an artifact of the very small sample size.

If STEM students do struggle in first semester, they clearly do better in second semester by the same amount to end up in the same place as everyone else by the end of the year. Or, they don’t struggle any more or less than anyone else and undergraduate program is not predictive of 1L performance.

1 At α = 0.05.

2 The lowest p-value was 0.43 when looking at differences in LRW grade by undergraduate program.

3 At α = 0.05.

*Editor’s note: Rory Smith is the Ultra Vires Diversions Editor.

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