In the blink of an eye, another academic year has passed. Our second teaching term has nearly come to an end, and daunting summer exams sit just beyond the month of April. Despite the challenges that we have all faced this year, it is important, now more than ever, to not lose sight of our goals and to cross that finish line. Here are some of my personal tips and tricks that I’ve learnt over the past couple of years to tackle law exams at university.
I live by the quote “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” and this is no less true when it comes to law exams. More significant than anything: know your exam dates and know your exam formats. With exams taking place online again this year, you now have 24 hours for completion. Whilst it’s not advisable that you spend the full 24-hour period, it is still vital that you know when your exam is released and when it is due for submission in order for the process to go smoothly on the day. Moreover, the format of each exam may be different, and you need to be fully aware of this in order to avoid, for instance, answering the incorrect number of questions or exceeding the word limit and being subject to a penalty. Following this, when managing your personal revision timetables, I would advise that you dedicate near enough equal time and effort towards each exam, as it is important to remember that your overall grade will reflect an average of all your exams combined.
When it comes to revision, everyone has their own methods and techniques that work best for them. However, below I have detailed some of the techniques that I have found to be super effective and ones that I strongly recommend you consider as you begin revision for your exams this summer.
Firstly, I recommend distinguishing ‘problem question’ topics and ‘essay question’ topics. Your lecturer may have mentioned if the topics are one or the other, or you may be able to identify whether a topic is likely to come up as an essay question if there is a particularly contentious area for debate. By being able to identify this, you can manage your notes more effectively in order to best suit the format that it is most likely to be assessed as. For instance, placing an emphasis on integrating academic commentary within your notes for essay question topics.
It is important to remember, with online exams, this is no longer a test of your memory. Instead, having accessible and efficiently organised notes will be a godsent on the day of your exam.
A key tip for organising topic outlines is to think of that particular topic at a higher level: breaking down the topic into manageable headings and sections. This may involve dividing up the topic into a similar structure that you would in addressing a problem question. Following this, you would then populate the gaps with relevant statutory provisions and case law summaries. In relation to case law, it is important to try and distinguish cases of legal principles and cases of fact in order to keep your notes concise. This distinction will come in handy for problem questions where you can compare multiple cases for analysis. Finally, it is important to format your topic outlines in order to create a document that is as clear as possible. This may include using bold headings, different colours, highlights or various font sizes. Do whatever works best for you.
It may be that given the challenges of this academic year, you didn’t quite manage to get through all your assigned textbook reading and journal articles on your reading list began to pile up. Do not ignore academic journals! These journals will provide you with the necessary analysis in an essay question to potentially hit the criteria for a first-class answer in your exams.
The most efficient technique I have found to distil academic viewpoints from articles is to: read the abstract, introduction and conclusion, and then note down the main arguments in your own words. By doing so, you will not only benefit from proving to yourself that you understand it, but it is also likely your summary will be more concise. Following this, go back to the article and use the ‘CTRL+F’ to search relevant words and sections and to note more specific quotes. Finally, if the article particularly interests you or you believe it details a particularly useful and well-reasoned argument, go back and read the full article. This method has helped me countless times in quickly and efficiently collecting a range of viewpoints to support and contrast in an essay question.
Finally: practice, practice, practice! It is completely understandable if you haven’t had the chance to complete a formative opportunity, but if you have, do not stop there! The best way to check your understanding is to practice answering past exam questions, or at the very least, planning them out. You can do this alone, or with friends in order to learn from each other whilst revising. This will provide you with the perfect opportunity to flag areas you don’t understand, with enough time to contact lecturers and resolve any issues. Significantly, similar questions crop up every year on exams, particularly contentious areas of debate, so practice questions provide you with similar structure to base your exam answers on. However, be cautious in this approach, as you need to be mindful in the actual exam that you are answering that specific exam question!
Finally, and most importantly: remember to rest! This academic year has been particularly challenging and unlike any other. Of course, it is important to prepare and revise for exams, and meet any other deadlines, but it is equally, if not more important, to take care of yourself. So, schedule in time to do things that make you happy, and it’ll be more beneficial for you in the long run. Be sure to rest, and you’ll do your best!
Written by Oliver Luke, Treasurer for EILS