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exam technique LLB

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    I'm just wondering how good exam answers differ from 1st class exam answers. With coursework I would say it's the depth of research shown and discussing & addressing uncertain areas of law. But in an exam it's unlikely I'd remember exactly what X & Y prof said or refer specifically to a law commission reports as wel as cases.

    Should you try to deal with areas of controversy even in a problem question, because if for example you just 'advise the parties', how can the marker differentiate between the standard of answer?
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    (Original post by joes2)
    I'm just wondering how good exam answers differ from 1st class exam answers. With coursework I would say it's the depth of research shown and discussing & addressing uncertain areas of law. But in an exam it's unlikely I'd remember exactly what X & Y prof said or refer specifically to a law commission reports as wel as cases.

    Should you try to deal with areas of controversy even in a problem question, because if for example you just 'advise the parties', how can the marker differentiate between the standard of answer?
    My impression is that the most important thing is that you answer the question. Of course, it sound's a bit silly but many students treat a question like "Should the royal prerogatives be codfified" as an invitation to write everything they know about the prerogatives. That is not what is asked. You should just use your knowledge to make arguments. The same is true for problem questions. Don't just write down what case X says, consider: What are the differences/similarities between case X and your facts? Are their any other cases which cast doubt on the decision of X and are maybe more favourable for one of the parties.
    Having said all of this, I have problems to realise it under time pressure as well.
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    For problem questions, you need to think like you are a barrister. There is no substitute for having an excellent knowledge of the case-law. You need to pick up on all the issues in the question and you need to analyse them fully and accurately. Most students miss at least one important argument/issue in each problem or fail to appreciate the implications of a significant point, if you want to get a first you can't afford to do that.

    If you are doing all that, you will be reeling the pages off and simply won't have time to start talking about areas of controversy. You need to stick to answering the question; if you have time in a 45-minute question to start talking about stuff that isn't part of the question, you haven't answered the question anywhere near as fully as you might. Similarly, you need to resist talking about cases that are only tangentially relevant, no matter how important or interesting they might be.
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    (Original post by jacketpotato)
    For problem questions, you need to think like you are a barrister. There is no substitute for having an excellent knowledge of the case-law. You need to pick up on all the issues in the question and you need to analyse them fully and accurately. Most students miss at least one important argument/issue in each problem or fail to appreciate the implications of a significant point, if you want to get a first you can't afford to do that.

    If you are doing all that, you will be reeling the pages off and simply won't have time to start talking about areas of controversy. You need to stick to answering the question; if you have time in a 45-minute question to start talking about stuff that isn't part of the question, you haven't answered the question anywhere near as fully as you might. Similarly, you need to resist talking about cases that are only tangentially relevant, no matter how important or interesting they might be.
    Brah, did you get a 1st?

    :smoke:
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    How many sides should /would you expect to write per 45 min question? Also I remember previously the instructions said you can't write on the question, I did anyway because I needed to!
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    JP- one would hope a barrister would think a bit more practically than a law student would in a problem question! But otherwise clearly all of the points you make are right (and obviously I know what you're getting at vis a vis the "barrister" comment).

    Regarding essay questions; it is much more difficult to describe the process of writing a first class answer. Unlike problem questions, which are highly methodical and require rigorous scrutiny of the facts of the problem (and sometimes the case law), essay questions require much more of a personal touch and can be answered in many different ways. People talk about vague concepts such as "originality" and "offering your own opinion", but ultimately I also think a first class essay will have an element of "swagger" that a 2.1 simply won't contain. It took me until 3rd year (and a number of failed experiments) before I finally unlocked the secret to writing consistent first class legal essays, so if you're in the first (or even second) year and struggling to get those firsts, I certainly wouldn't become too discouraged.

    Things to bear in mind:

    1. Always lay out your arguments in the introduction. E.g.- first I will address this, second this, and finally I will examine this.

    2. Make a limited number of detailed arguments. This is likely to demonstrate greater understanding of the topic and also lends a natural structure to your essay. It is also better in exams, particularly as you only have limited time. Do not adopt a "scatter-gun" approach, whereby you offer a multitude of different points, all of which are supplemented by sketchy details. Essays written like that tend to demonstrate a lack of comprehension of the subject-matter and are also usually very disorganised.

    3. This is where it becomes a bit tougher to describe. I suppose the best I can do is to say that, try and make the examiner aware that the essay sets out your arguments, and not say an academic or judge's. When quoting from extraneous sources, always make sure their pearls of wisdom (or idiocy) are seamlessly interwoven within the fabric of your essay (and not vice versa). Engage in the academic debate, and state why you feel a particular viewpoint supports or contradicts your own. If the article runs counter to your own beliefs, explain why you are right and the academic is wrong. Be respectful, but don't be afraid to criticise, even if the individual in question is a Supreme Court judge and you're a first year student.

    4. Try and think of something a bit different if you can. It might well set you apart. Getting a first can sometimes be about going beyond the usual. For instance, in my final year we had a Company law question about whether the Courts' approach to piercing the corporate veil was correct. Most people stuck to English jurisprudence and commentary when answering. I decided to dedicate one of my paragraphs to a comparison between English and US and Commonwealth jurisprudence and went on a bit of a rant about how the Australians had got it right, whereas we had got it wrong! It's that kind of touch that will get you into the 70s. You also might want to sprinkle a few gobbets here and there to prove you have a read a judgment in detail etc...essay writing really is about showing off sometimes!

    5. Read academic articles and ape their style. The more you read the better. Don't go mad and spend all year in the library; I certainly didn't- but pay attention to common essay structures, legal academic jargon and particular ways of expressing things. Stylistically it can make a difference.

    Just a trivial example:

    Student A- "The case of Williams v. Roffey Bros was about whether factual and practical benefits could constitute good consideration."

    Student B "Williams v. Roffey turned on, inter alia, whether factual and practical benefits constituted good consideration."

    They say the same thing but silly as it sounds, I'd take Student B more seriously, because he is using legal phraseology (i.e. "turned" rather than "is about"). Things like that establish from the beginning that you intend to be taken seriously.

    Right that is my contribution- otherwise, just see what works through trial and error!
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    (Original post by joes2)
    How many sides should /would you expect to write per 45 min question? Also I remember previously the instructions said you can't write on the question, I did anyway because I needed to!
    It varies- remember quality not quantity (much as that is cliched). If you write 25 pages of mindless drivel that will obviously not gain as a high a mark as 15 pages of considered, superb analysis. Don't be afraid to eat into your time by planning carefully what you want to say and where you want to say it.

    However, students in command of the law obviously tend to write more, simply because they know more (duh!). There's no set limit- just make sure you feel you've addressed all of the issues adequately.
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    (Original post by joes2)
    I'm just wondering how good exam answers differ from 1st class exam answers. With coursework I would say it's the depth of research shown and discussing & addressing uncertain areas of law. But in an exam it's unlikely I'd remember exactly what X & Y prof said or refer specifically to a law commission reports as wel as cases.

    Should you try to deal with areas of controversy even in a problem question, because if for example you just 'advise the parties', how can the marker differentiate between the standard of answer?
    The book "How to write Law Essays & Exams" by Strong is a book about nothing except differentiating 2i and 1st class answers.
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    thanks!
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    (Original post by jacketpotato)
    For problem questions, you need to think like you are a barrister. There is no substitute for having an excellent knowledge of the case-law. You need to pick up on all the issues in the question and you need to analyse them fully and accurately. Most students miss at least one important argument/issue in each problem or fail to appreciate the implications of a significant point, if you want to get a first you can't afford to do that.

    If you are doing all that, you will be reeling the pages off and simply won't have time to start talking about areas of controversy. You need to stick to answering the question; if you have time in a 45-minute question to start talking about stuff that isn't part of the question, you haven't answered the question anywhere near as fully as you might. Similarly, you need to resist talking about cases that are only tangentially relevant, no matter how important or interesting they might be.
    What kind of structure would you recommend? I am especially not sure about subjects like Criminal, Law where you sometimes have to spot a lot of issues Either to go chronologically through the question (Trespassing, Murder, Theft) or to order it in the degree of importance/seriousness (Murder, Theft, Trespassing)?
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    (Original post by AdamTJ)
    JP- one would hope a barrister would think a bit more practically than a law student would in a problem question! But otherwise clearly all of the points you make are right (and obviously I know what you're getting at vis a vis the "barrister" comment).

    Regarding essay questions; it is much more difficult to describe the process of writing a first class answer. Unlike problem questions, which are highly methodical and require rigorous scrutiny of the facts of the problem (and sometimes the case law), essay questions require much more of a personal touch and can be answered in many different ways. People talk about vague concepts such as "originality" and "offering your own opinion", but ultimately I also think a first class essay will have an element of "swagger" that a 2.1 simply won't contain. It took me until 3rd year (and a number of failed experiments) before I finally unlocked the secret to writing consistent first class legal essays, so if you're in the first (or even second) year and struggling to get those firsts, I certainly wouldn't become too discouraged.

    Things to bear in mind:

    1. Always lay out your arguments in the introduction. E.g.- first I will address this, second this, and finally I will examine this.

    2. Make a limited number of detailed arguments. This is likely to demonstrate greater understanding of the topic and also lends a natural structure to your essay. It is also better in exams, particularly as you only have limited time. Do not adopt a "scatter-gun" approach, whereby you offer a multitude of different points, all of which are supplemented by sketchy details. Essays written like that tend to demonstrate a lack of comprehension of the subject-matter and are also usually very disorganised.

    3. This is where it becomes a bit tougher to describe. I suppose the best I can do is to say that, try and make the examiner or argument aware that the essay sets out your arguments, and not say an academic or judge's. When quoting from extraneous sources, always make sure their pearls of wisdom (or idiocy) are seamlessly interwoven within the fabric of your essay (and not vice versa). Engage in the academic debate, and state why you feel a particular viewpoint supports or contradicts your own. If the article runs counter to your own beliefs, explain why you are right and the academic is wrong. Be respectful, but don't be afraid to criticise, even if the individual in question is a Supreme Court judge and you're a first year student.

    4. Try and think of something a bit different if you can. It might well set you apart. Getting a first can sometimes be about going beyond the usual. For instance, in my final year we had a Company law question about whether the Courts' approach to piercing the corporate veil was correct. Most people stuck to English jurisprudence and commentary when answering. I decided to dedicate one of my paragraphs to a comparison between English and US and Commonwealth jurisprudence and went on a bit of a rant about how the Australians had got it right, whereas we had got it wrong! It's that kind of touch that will get you into the 70s. You also might want to sprinkle a few gobbets here and there to prove you have a read a judgment in detail etc...essay writing really is about showing off sometimes!

    5. Read academic articles and ape their style. The more you read the better. Don't go mad and spend all year in the library; I certainly didn't- but pay attention to common essay structures, legal academic jargon and particular ways of expressing things. Stylistically it can make a difference.

    Just a trivial example:

    Student A- "The case of Williams v. Roffey Bros was about whether factual and practical benefits could constitute good consideration."

    Student B "Williams v. Roffey turned on, inter alia, whether factual and practical benefits constituted good consideration."

    They say the same thing but silly as it sounds, I'd take Student B more seriously, because he is using legal phraseology (i.e. "turned" rather than "is about"). Things like that establish from the beginning that you intend to be taken seriously.

    Right that is my contribution- otherwise, just see what works through trial and error!
    Thank you so much for posting this in-depth advice... I am currently stressing with revision for my second year exams and you have given me some motivation and an idea of how to go about them!
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    (Original post by tehforum)
    Brah, did you get a 1st?

    :smoke:
    I'm pretty sure he did! You only have to look at the quality of his problem solving. He's definitely a man to be listened to.
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    (Original post by Qoph)
    What kind of structure would you recommend? I am especially not sure about subjects like Criminal, Law where you sometimes have to spot a lot of issues Either to go chronologically through the question (Trespassing, Murder, Theft) or to order it in the degree of importance/seriousness (Murder, Theft, Trespassing)?
    I'd put headings for each defendant, then subheadings for each crime with which they could realistically be charged ordered by seriousness. (Disclaimer: not doing criminal this year, but this structure is what Nick McBride recommends in Letters to a Law Student.)

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