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How to write an answer guide for law exams

Girl highlighting pages in a book

Walking in to my first substantive law exam, I was sure I was ready. I had a painstakingly-prepared set of notes that covered every principle, factual summary, majority and minority judgment, and even quotes from some His and Her Honours. What I realised at the most appropriate time, i.e. at the beginning of the exam, was that I had too many notes.

Though there was a fellow student who had literally taken along a mini portable filing system, my 60-page summary was still too much. During reading time, panic ensued; I could feel the tension in the room increase as other students had the same realisation, and the allocated 3 hours felt like 10 minutes. Needless to say, a lot of baby law student blood was shed on that day.

Making Exemplar Notes

Making weekly detailed notes is not necessarily an effort in vain. When written with the final exam in mind, highlighting principles and applications, this process could deliver the greatest exam companion.

Each subject at law school has its own framework, and consequently, its own road map for answering questions. The topics studied in each subject can be basically structured into a massive flowchart, which gives you a greater understanding as to what you are actually learning.

Take for example a problem question on misleading and deceptive conduct, which is a significant topic in Commercial Law. In answering whether there is a breach of s18 of the Australian Consumer Law, the issues can be broken down into five parts:

  1. What is the conduct?

  2. Is this conduct in trade or commerce?

  3. Is this conduct misleading or deceptive?

  4. Was there reliance on this conduct to qualify a causal link to remedies?

  5. What are the remedies available?

Having no more than a one-page summary for each part will suffice. Divide each page into half for principles and applications; have one-line summaries of case decisions, important quotes from judgments (where relevant), and a couple of words on the facts of each case to jog your memory.

By having such readily available summaries of each part, this enables you to keep a clear focus and identify issues in fact scenarios as per the framework of what you’ve been taught in the subject. You will also have a better perspective for analysis and application of the law. Most importantly, you’ll be able to prudently advise that pesky hypothetical client about their rights and liabilities (as we’re forever asked to do).

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