A Guide to Revising for your First Law Exams
This semester you’ve been busy socialising, writing assignments 24 hours before they are due, and all of sudden, exams are now on the horizon. Before you go freaking out, drink five coffees and move all your worldly possessions to the library in a panic, here are the answers to some commonly asked questions about that dreaded first set of law exams…
Do I have to do all the readings?
The answer to this depends on how high you want to score and how much you already understand the topic. If you want score that elusive HD then you probably will need to read everything on your reading guide. HD answers will know the cases in depth and will be able to discuss in detail why a particular outcome was reached, i.e understand the ratio behind a decision and how the reasoning differed between judgments. Doing the readings also means that you can quote from judgments on your exam.
If your aim is simply to pass and not have to repeat a subject, keep it simple. Know the bare bone facts of the cases on your reading guide and the principles that these have created. You don’t need to know exactly which judge said what but you do need to be able to summarise accurately the legal principle that emerges from a particular case.
Do I need to know dissenting judgments?
The majority decisions of High Court justices are the ones you really need to know and know well enough to apply to the problem questions on your exam. Dissenting judgments do not carry this weight. So if your aim is simply to pass then don’t go stressing over these too much.
However, if you want to score in that top end, dissenting judgments can be useful to bring up if the majority decision of a case doesn’t help your client in your problem solving question. Although not binding, dissents can be quite persuasive, particularly where there has been a narrow majority in a decision. If your lecturer draws your attention to a particular dissenting judgment then write it down, understand it and know it, they’re telling you for a reason! As far as I’ve seen, law lecturers don’t normally bring up dissents ‘for fun’.
Do I need to know the case facts or just the legal principles?
There tends to be a lot of confusion as to what should actually go in your notes. Something I noticed with a lot of my friends was a tendency to focus on either the material facts of the case, or the principles of law alone. The best advice I can give here is try to relate the two: if this case with these facts gave this outcome, then this principle will apply to any case with similar facts. The facts influence the outcome and thus the principles. The principles will accordingly apply only where the material facts are similar. When answering a problem question, don’t just look for similar material facts, also consider whether how the material facts are different and how, if at all, could a particular fact change the outcome for your client.
How should I study?
Once you have your cases and principles down-pat, problem questions are the way to go. I would highly recommend attempting the first few of these with your friends; law is a very subjective thing and it is very helpful to gain a wide range of opinions and approaches to a particular issue. If you want, split your group into two so that each half can attempt to argue for a different side. This is extremely important because in your exam you need to be able to identify not only your own strengths, but also, the strengths of the other side and how you will overcome them. By putting yourself in the shoes of your opposition you should be able to anticipate their arguments and hopefully rebut them and prove why your own reasoning is stronger.
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