• Wenee Yap

Advice from your Tutor: How to Prepare for and Answer Different Types of Exam Questions


It’s the final countdown to the examination apocalypse! Fortunately, exam season is swiftly followed by the sleep-away-your-days wonder that is holidays. So you can get to the sleeping in and afternoon napping with minimal stress, here are some law tutor tips about how to prepare for and tackle different kinds of exam questions…

The Essay

Plan, plan, plan. Sure, the exam essay could be about ANYTHING, but in reality it rarely is. In fact, as you go through law school, you should get better at figuring out what the exam essay will cover. Obvious likely topics: whatever is in the news or hitting the courts as an unresolved legal controversy or your law lecturer’s pet interest area (for cues, look into their research work and published articles.) Sometimes kinder academics will even tell you which areas to study, so don’t skip the revision lecture.

Once you’ve identified likely exam essay themes, pose broad questions about those area(s) of law and write a basic one-page essay structure:

  1. Introduction;

  2. Three to five points with supporting cases, quotes from journal articles, etc; and

  3. A broad conclusion.

Do a few different plans tailored to the different areas of law you think your essay might focus on, and keep your responses to dot points that you can expand on in the exam. Revise your final plans before hitting the exam, and when you’re tackling the real question it should simply be a matter of writing your planned essay, perhaps with a few tweaks to suit your research to the actual question.

Short Answer Questions

In many ways short answer questions are tougher to prepare for. They may cover a much broader range of topics, which means you need to study the whole subject in an extremely targeted manner. How do you deal with this problem?

Broad knowledge requires broad learning. The best way to revise for short answer questions is to revise your exam notes as a whole, and if you have time, return to your textbook or suggested readings to take another look at topics that were highlighted by your lecturers. Ensure your responses to a short answer question are brief and straight to the point.

The Problem Solving Question

With practice, this can be the easiest kind of exam question – it’s all about planning and identifying likely scenarios. Read your subject outline and look at the areas of law you’ve covered – if you did torts, you will almost definitely need to deal with a problem solving question about negligence.

When you’ve identified the likely topic areas, create a one page problem solving answer plan that covers the legislation elements and sections, key cases and a short ‘memory trigger’ phrase or word to associate with each case and help you recall its facts/ratio in more detail, framed by an introduction and conclusion. This will ensure that you tick off all the key authorities that examiners look for when they grade your paper.

Multiple Choice Questions

The most underestimated of exam question types, multiple choice questions tempt you to throw study to the wind and waltz in with nothing but a barely read textbook and a folder full of hastily printed lecture notes. Sure, pure guesswork could score you a distinction by sheer fluke. If you would prefer a more strategic approach, consider studying in a similar way to preparing for short answer questions: as broadly as possible, revising first your lecture notes, then required readings, and then whatever else you have time for. Unless you’re penalised for incorrect responses (i.e. for guessing), answer every multiple-choice question.

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