Studying law: in my words (Part 2 of 3)

This blog was contributed by Calvin Chong, a University of London Undergraduate Laws student who is based in Hong Kong, providing advice to students studying for their LLB. Please note the views expressed are those of the author and publication on the Undergraduate Laws blog does not constitute an endorsement. This is the second in a series of three blog posts.

This is the second instalment of my article giving you my experience of how to study law efficiently. This instalment focuses on near-exam time management, exam preparation and writing a high-scoring examination script.

Near-exam time management & materials from Undergraduate Laws

In February as the examination period nears, Undergraduate Laws issues “pre-exam updates” compiled by the chief examiner. This pre-exam update is organised according to chapters (which are examination topics) and it typically includes new cases as well as commentary considered important by the chief examiner. There is also the Undergraduate Laws blog which requires chief examiners to write articles and give video presentations on topics prior to the examination. It is helpful to combine your topic list and compare it with the pre-exam update and blogs to decide on your last minute revision:

company law imageExample of my technique as applied on Company Law on the UOL LLB program

For the Company law exam candidates are required to answer at least one essay question and two problem questions hence the division of topics into essay and problems above.

At this juncture I would arrange my final revision into two parts: an in-depth final revision and cramming.

For topics which correspond to an essay question (or a few) the goal is to produce a one-page essay plan complete with cases and academic commentary. For problem questions, the goal is to produce a flow chart which includes all the important issues that have been discussed in past papers of the recent 5 years:

flowchartMy failed attempt in making a flowchart for the civil procedure rule: the reason it doesn’t work is that I attempted to write too much on one page, making it impossible to cram in.

Essay questions for answers that are not immediately obvious

When you are preparing for a topic which is only examinable through essay questions, it is beneficial to consider the availability of additional material. As outlined in part 1, the basics would be the textbooks, journal articles referred to in cases and chapters from specialist books.

Exam preparation: writing speed

One thing that appears to trouble part-time law students is that they don’t have enough practice holding a pen and writing for hours. Unlike full-time university students, it is often difficult for us to estimate how many words we can write in 45 minutes (the time allowed for one question in an examination).

If you can write 4 pages within 45 minutes (including thinking time) then chances are you don’t have issues with writing speed. But if you can’t then it is probably for the better that you start practicing writing at least one month before examination. The more you write, the faster and more legibly you write.

Exam preparation: answering questions open-book

As discussed in the first instalment, your notes for each topic should be no more than a few pages (anything more than 5–6 pages requires further trimming). If it is an essay plan, it should be no more than a page. See the example below:

page notesMy one-page notes on Clogs and Fetters (of mortgages)

When you already have notes in the kind of format above, it is time to practice writing out the answers of a few questions. Undergraduate Laws is nice enough to provide us with both the examination questions and the examination report (with outlines to the answer). After writing the answer out, check if you have addressed every bit of the question as suggested in the report. If you haven’t, check if you have that covered in your notes (and add it to your notes if it’s not covered — and highlight that bit if it is covered but you missed the legal issue).

After a few tries, you should be familiar with using your own notes. You should now be studying your notes and memorizing everything in it. If it’s an important (or interesting) dicta, remember the judge’s name as well.

How should I structure my answer?

This question has been answered in countless books dedicated to the law students. The suggested structure is: introduction, definition, analysis then conclusion.

An introduction should state the conclusion of the answer:

excerpt of mock examExcerpt of my answer from mock examination for Land law

Ensure that you write legibly. Marking answer scripts is one of the more mundane tasks for the examiner. Writing legibly makes your examiner happy.

Get somebody to mark your paper

It would be best if you are offered mock examinations by your local institution that provides teaching. Some students may be worried about whether their ‘unique points’ will be taken up by the classmate they’ve shared their script with. Don’t worry about it. Even if they are marking with a certain percentage of First, 2:1 and 2:2 in mind (which according to statistics is about top 1%, top 10% and top 25% respectively).

The next instalment will focus on particular issues surrounding the subjects I have taken: Legal system and method, Civil and criminal procedure, Public law, Criminal law, Contract law, Tort law, Equity and Trusts, Company law and Property law.


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