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The Law of Diminishing Marks

Female student surrounded by books

Whether it’s obsessively checking comma placement in assignment footnotes or creating the ideal colour-coding system for highlighting textbooks, law students can be pretty perfectionistic. This trait normally serves us well, but can have its drawbacks around exam time.

The exam with multiple essays can see the perfectionist law student hand in a high distinction-worthy booklet one, but the detailed analysis of minority judges’ reasoning then gives way to frantic bullet points and barely-answered questions in essays two and three.

The law of diminishing marks says that the first few marks in an exam question are also the easiest to achieve. The further you wade into the analysis, the harder those subsequent marks are to attain.

But the law of diminishing marks comes into play even earlier than that – at the exam preparation stage. In the same way that you’re better off trying to answer all questions than perfecting one or two, you’re also better off progressively revising all topics.

Given those marks for higher-level understanding are harder to obtain in an exam, the early stages of study should focus on mastering the key authorities, statutes and general principles across all topics in all subjects so that you’d be able to achieve the ‘low-hanging marks’ on all exam questions.

If there’s a topic that you’re initially struggling to understand, move onto the next point and come back to it later – it might not even be in the exam. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can then delve deeper into the confusing labyrinth of case law.

Your study timetable should factor in a little bit of revision for each subject everyday.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to perfect your knowledge in one subject before moving onto the next; average preparation across all subjects will serve you better than amazing preparation in one. Spread the study love around!

This post was inspired by Chris Enright’s article on law exam technique.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: This story was first published on Survive Law on 17 October 2012.

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