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Getting firsts in assignments

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Applying to Uni? Let Universities come to you. Click here to get your perfect place 20-10-2014
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    Hey everybody,

    I'm a second year Law student at the University of Kent, and I'm encountering a problem. While I've worked much harder than I did last year, my grades haven't substantially changed. I'm getting frustrated at my inability to break the 1st barrier - the past four pieces of coursework were awarded 68% (with categorical marking meaning the proximity to the 1st is ridiculously close). I've spoken with my seminar leaders and lecturers about what they want from a first class piece of work, and I do incorporate their advice throughout my work, but that elusive first still isn't appearing. Critical analysis, a concise and well informed prose, and a logical and smoothly flowing structure are things I pay much attention to. But then I'll be outdone by colleagues who, upon inquiry, tell me they did their essays the night before in a blind panic. I'm starting to realise there's a lot of sheer luck involved in writing good essays. Does anyone have some advice for me? Thanks.
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    Its nearly impossible to give you any advice on how to turn you answer into a first without actually seeing how you write. Could you perhaps give an example of a paragraph in one essay/problem question you were given, and then we could see what your style of writing is like, is it presented well, what's your exam technique like etc etc...
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    (Original post by Hello:D)
    Its nearly impossible to give you any advice on how to turn you answer into a first without actually seeing how you write. Could you perhaps give an example of a paragraph in one essay/problem question you were given, and then we could see what your style of writing is like, is it presented well, what's your exam technique like etc etc...
    Sure.

    "Alan may attempt to argue that although the Authority’s failure to remove the tree in the road appears to be an omission (under Smith v Littlewoods [1987] ), Reeves v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2000] highlights a “control” argument. Put simply, the Authority, in a position of control of the situation (and having been warned of the tree) should have owed a common law duty of care . Alan may also seek to find a statutory duty under the Highways Act 1980. However, the difficulty for Alan is unearthed in this Act. Under S.150 , it is stated that the authority has the power, not a duty to remove debris on the road , implying no obligation to do so, as Valentine v Hounslow [2010] held. This restricts any statutory duties that may arise, and highlights just a piece of what will be demonstrated is an issue of constitutional importance, affecting Alan’s claim at common law as well. As it is the Government who decides what powers it is to wield (through statutes), and how detrimental use/non-use of these powers is to be addressed, a court may feel claims against public bodies would be more suited to other forums (the “Justiciability problem”). Moreover, the Court will not undermine the Authority by imposing duties they did not confer on themselves. As such, Stovin v Wise [1996] held that a common law duty (the domain of the judiciary) cannot arise from statutory powers (in this case, removing debris). Finding otherwise would cause an imbalance of the branches of government , not to mention a considerable increase in duty being placed on the Authority, thus raising costs . On this basis, Alan may simply have his case “struck out” .


    Alan may thus consider claims against John, arguing that he owed him a duty of care to prevent Alan driving drunk (and John, unlike the Authority, is not a public body). However, it seems Alan would also have great difficulty establishing a duty here. Under the test of Caparo v Dickman [1990] , John could reasonably foresee that by handing the keys to Alan (who has clearly drank over the legal limit), harm may occur. John is also in a position of proximity for the purposes of fulfilling the Caparo test (as they have been drinking together, similar to Barrett). However, it is on the third Caparo test that Alan would encounter a difficulty making a claim. As a matter of policy, it would be onerous for a duty to be placed on John, as merely a friend (a view not dissimilar to Lord Keith’s in Yuen Kun Yeu v Attorney General of Hong Kong [1988] ), as this would dramatically change the law of the duty of care we owe to each other . Once again, we encounter a policy argument creating an obstacle for Alan’s claim."


    This piece forms part of a two part essay. I got 65% for this section, and 68% on the other (an essay question).
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    I think your technique is holding you back. It isn't clear enough and your paragraphs are difficult to follow. However, it should be easy to fix once you recognise the problem.

    I think you would really benefit from a more disciplined paragraph structure. You need to identify the issue, state the relevant law, apply it to the facts and conclude. Currently, you seem to do it the other way round. Essentially, you are assuming knowledge on the part of the reader. For example, your first paragraph assumes the reader knows that "control" is a relevant factor in establishing a duty of a care. Don't do it; lead the reader to your conclusion in a systematic way.

    You should also make sure to use short sentences. Have a look at a Lord Denning judgment: he was remarkably clear, essentially because he used really short sentences. You should only have one idea in each sentence.

    Just my two cents.

    (Original post by skaterava)
    Sure.

    [I] "Alan may attempt to argue that although the Authority’s failure to remove the tree in the road appears to be an omission (under Smith v Littlewoods [1987] ), Reeves v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis [2000] highlights a “control” argument. Put simply, the Authority, in a position of control of the situation (and having been warned of the tree) should have owed a common law duty of care . This paragraph is not clear. You have started talking about "control" and "omissions" without explaining why they are relevant. You state the legal argument (failure to remove the tree is an omission), then you state the relevant (importance of control) and then you state the relevant legal test (duty of care). It has to be done the other way round. State the legal principle at issue, state the relevant law, THEN apply it to the facts and conclude.

    A better paragraph would read something like this: "To claim in negligence, Alan would need to show that the authority owed him a duty of care. He would also need to show that the Authority's failure to remove the tree in the road was a breach of that duty per Smith v Littlewoods. The case of Reeves v CPM highlights that "control" is a key factor in establishing duty of care. Here, the authority has complete control over the road for reason X. Accordingly, the authority does/does not owe Alan a duty of care in respect of the tree."

    You are also missing a conclusion on the common law duty point. Does the authority owe a common law duty of care or not?

    Start a new paragraph here


    Alan may also seek to find a statutory duty under the Highways Act 1980. However, the difficulty for Alan is unearthed in this Act. Under S.150 , it is stated that the authority has the power, not a duty to remove debris on the road , implying no obligation to do so, as Valentine v Hounslow [2010] held. Your writing would be clearer if you restrict yourself to one idea per sentence. You could say "Under s.150, it is stated that the authority has the power to remove debris on the road. Valentine v Hounslow confirmed that this does not impose a duty on the authority." This restricts any statutory duties that may arise, and highlights just a piece of what will be demonstrated is an issue of constitutional importance, affecting Alan’s claim at common law as well. As it is the Government who decides what powers it is to wield (through statutes), and how detrimental use/non-use of these powers is to be addressed, a court may feel claims against public bodies would be more suited to other forums (the “Justiciability problem”). Moreover, the Court will not undermine the Authority by imposing duties they did not confer on themselves. As such, Stovin v Wise [1996] held that a common law duty (the domain of the judiciary) cannot arise from statutory powers (in this case, removing debris). Finding otherwise would cause an imbalance of the branches of government , not to mention a considerable increase in duty being placed on the Authority, thus raising costs . On this basis, Alan may simply have his case “struck out” . I had to re-read the last part of this paragraph a couple times and think about it for a few minutes. An examiner probably wouldn't do that because he has hundreds of papers to get through. I think the reason I got confused is, again, because you have approached things the wrong way round. You seem to start with your conclusion (no statutory duty for constitutional reasons), then you explain why you reached your conclusion (there is a justiciability problem), then you explain the relevant law (Stovin v Wise). Do it the other way round: identify the issue, state the law, apply to the facts, conclude.
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    I'm not sure, quite honestly. I don't work particularly hard (at least by TSR standards) and got a first in my law of torts essay having done it in four hours the night before it was due.
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    (Original post by Aspiringlawstudent)
    I'm not sure, quite honestly. I don't work particularly hard (at least by TSR standards) and got a first in my law of torts essay having done it in four hours the night before it was due.
    Well that's just rosy. I don't know how people like you do it, and to be honest it drives me mad.

    Jacketpotato, thank you very much for your analysis. I seem to have gotten carried away with making sure the knowledge/critical analysis was there; Didn't really give much thought to the order in which I put it. Thanks. It's just a shame all my coursework has been handed in for this year; I guess I'll just have to put the advice to use in my final year.
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    (Original post by Aspiringlawstudent)
    I'm not sure, quite honestly. I don't work particularly hard (at least by TSR standards) and got a first in my law of torts essay having done it in four hours the night before it was due.
    Thanks for sharing how amazing you are with us, bro.
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    I'm not a law student but by reading your text, you appear to be coming across as someone who is trying to be pretentious. Don't be afraid to make your essays 'easy on the eye'.

    Your work needs to be more succinct and logical. A non-expert needs to understand what you're talking about. I know nothing about law and I struggled to grasp with you were trying to say in your essay. Jacketpotato's edited version made it easier for me to understand what you were trying to say.

    Law essays aren't about what you write but the way you write.

    All what I've said is probably futile but meh.
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    (Original post by Aspiringlawstudent)
    I'm not sure, quite honestly. I don't work particularly hard (at least by TSR standards) and got a first in my law of torts essay having done it in four hours the night before it was due.
    Well enjoy first year while it lasts.
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    (Original post by T-Toe)
    I'm not a law student but by reading your text, you appear to be coming across as someone who is trying to be pretentious. Don't be afraid to make your essays 'easy on the eye'.
    I think I'm just afraid of writing too simplistically. I sometimes have a look at my peers essays and pick up on their sophisticated flow and use of words. I'll test the new tactic next year.
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    You can write with as much sophistication as you like, and to the extent that it makes your expression more precise and clear it's beneficial. If attempted sophistication becomes verbosity, though, you're doing it wrong.
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    I think simplicity is definitely the way to go. If you keep your writing clear and systematic, you are much less likely to miss out important legal points and the examiner is much more likely to give you credit for the points you make. The problem with sophistication is that, most of the time, it makes the writer's reasoning difficult to follow. Sophistication is often used as a device to "cover up" deficiencies in the author's writing and ignore difficult points, examiners can see right through it.
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    Okay, here's something that's confused me. My lecturers have uploaded a model answer to this question, submitted by a student (not anonymously either - bit of a mistake). In the answer, she's written as if the reader is supposed to know the law. Cases are cited without any explanation as to why they're important, and yet this is a an essay that's been given a high first. Why is there no uniformity in assignments at uni!?

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