German law school top honors

The grading system of German law schools is a discipline of its own. In total there are 18 points. Every three points are equal to one grade level (like a letter grade). Law schools, in addition to the usual levels of very good, good, satisfactory, acceptable, inadequate, and insufficient, also use the level entirely satisfactory.

Those who receive the grades of very good, good, or entirely  satisfactory on their certification exam (comparable to the bar exam) graduate with distinction. A minimum of four points are required to pass the exam, and only 15% of students receive a score higher than eight.

To receive all eighteen points would give you a grade of very good plus. This practically never happens, becoming very clear when a lot of fuss is made over someone receiving a very good grade.

For example, Sonja Pelikan in 2010. She received 16.08 points, which was even worth an interview by a major German newspaper (Wie schafft man 16 Punkte? Süddeutsche Zeitung, May 10th, 2010).

Or Stefan Thönissen who was interviewed by the Baden news, because he received an evaluation of very good on his exam. The article emphasized: “In the field of law, 18 points is the magical maximum score, essentially unattainable.”

But why would one introduce a grading-scale in which it is impossible to reach the highest grade? Perhaps to convey the message: “It is always possible to do a little bit better, so put some effort into it!” Perhaps to keep the others “grounded to the facts”. Because nothing is worse than considering one’s self to be better than one really is.