About Me

Most universities hold a Freshers’ Week or a similar event. Its chief purpose is to help new students settle in quickly. As well as a series of informative talks, there is usually an energetic social programme and senior students will be around to help you to find your feet. Your university will probably send you an information pack ahead of your arrival.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

May - Practical tips for combating the symptoms of exam anxiety

Sleeplessness. This is commonplace and does little harm in the short term. Get up, have a snack, do some light reading or other work, then return to bed. Avoid caffeine (for example, tea, coffee and cola) for several hours before going to bed.

Lack of appetite/upset tummy. Again, these symptoms are common. Eat what you can, but take sugary sweets into the exam (and/or drinks, if allowed) to keep your energy levels up. If allowed, take some water to avoid dehydration.

Fear of the unknown. Confirm dates and times of exams. Check any paperwork you have been given regarding the format and timing of the exam. Take a mascot or lucky charm with you if this helps. In extreme cases, it might be a good idea to visit the exam room, so you can become familiar with the location.

Worries about timekeeping. Get a reliable alarm clock or a new battery for an old one. Arrange for an alarm phone call. Ask a friend or relative to make sure you are awake and out of bed on time. Make reliable travel arrangements, so that you arrive early.

Blind panic during an exam. To reduce the symptoms, try doing some relaxation exercises (see below) and then return to your paper. If you still feel bad, explain how you feel to an invigilator. Ask to go for a supervised walk outside if this might help. If you have problems with the wording of a specific question, ask to speak to the departmental representative at the exam (if they have left the room, they can be phoned).

Feeling tense. Shut your eyes, take several deep breaths, do some stretching and relaxing muscle movements. During exams, it may be a good idea to do this between questions, and possibly to have a complete rest for a few seconds or so. Prior to exams, try some exercise activity, or escape temporarily from your worries by watching a movie.

April - Exam Strategies

Here are some tips on spotting what is likely to come up in the exam.

1 Past papers. Look at the past papers that have been set on X law over the past few years. Is there an issue that tends, time and time again, to form the basis of a question in the X law exam? If so, be prepared for a question on that issue to come up again.

2 Last year’s paper. Pay particular attention to last year’s paper. Examiners tend not to set the same sort of essay questions two years in a row, so if there was an essay question on last year’s
paper on a particular issue, it’s not likely you will get a similar essay question this year. So preparing for such a question to come up will often be a complete waste of time.

3 Recent developments. Examiners are human beings. When an examiner sits down to write an exam, he can often feel very jaded and uninspired. Lacking in ideas for good essay and problem
questions, he will often turn to recent cases and articles for inspiration. So, in your revision, pay a lot of attention to recent developments in X law.

A case decided in the past year is far more likely to form the basis of a problem question in the exam than a case that was decided five years ago. An article that was published in the past year is far more likely to supply a quote for an essay question than an article that was published five years ago. An issue relating to X Law that has made the newspapers in the past year is far more likely to form the basis of an essay question or a problem question than an issue that was dominating the headlines five years ago.

4 The examiner. If you know who the examiner setting your paper is, then listen out for any hints that she might give in her lectures as to what might be covered in the exam paper and, just as importantly, what won’t be covered in the exam paper. Also try and find out what the examiner has been writing about in the past year or so. It may be that she will draw on her work for ideas for essay or problem questions.

March - How to write better law essays..

Here are a few tips on writing legal essays that you should bear in mind, whether you are writing a descriptive essay or a discursive essay.

1 Express yourself as clearly as possible
A good way of testing whether your essay is clear enough to be understood is this: Imagine a friend has asked you the question that is the subject of theessay. Would your friend be baffled by your response or have to ask you to clarify certain points you have made? If so, your essay is not clear enough and you should rework it.

2 Make your essays easy to follow
Use devices such as headings and numbered points to make it easier for your reader to understand what you are saying

3 Assume that the reader knows enough to have asked the question
Students often wonder in writing legal essays how much knowledge they should assume on the part of the reader. The answer is that you should write your essay on the basis that it will be read by someone who knows just enough to have asked the question which you are answering.

So if you are writing an essay on ‘Compare and contrast the Unfair ContractTerms Act 1977 and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999’, in writing your essay you are entitled to assume that your reader has heard of the 1977 Act and the 1999 Regulations, but you should not assume that your reader knows much more than that.

February - 5 reasons why you should read cases

Let’s start with a very basic question. Why should you read cases? After all, many law students can do an entire law degree without reading any cases whatsoever – they simply rely on textbooks and potted summaries of the law to get them through the course. I suppose there are five reasons why it’s important that you should read cases:

1 By reading cases you get an education in how lawyers think and reason. Read any case. Look at the facts of the case. Look at how the judge lays out the legal questions raised by those facts. Look at how he goes through the previously decided cases and statutes that are relevant to those legal questions. Look at how he discovers from those cases and statutes a legal rule or principle that can be used to resolve those questions. Look at how he checks that rule or principle to ensure that it is sound – that a special exception to it shouldn’t be created in this case reassured, applies the rule or principle and moves towards a conclusion. You will have to do exactly the same thing whenever you are asked to give an opinion as to what the law says in a particular situation. So reading cases helps educate you how to be a lawyer.What would we think of a trainee surgeon who, on being invited to watch a particularly tricky operation so that he can learn from the experience, replies, ‘Sorry, no – I never watch other people operating’? Well, a student who doesn’t read cases is no different.

2 Cases are treasure houses of important insights into the law. They contain hosts of observations from judges about:

* how the law should be reformed
* why the law should not be reformed in a certain way
* how the law might develop in the future
* what the law might say in certain hypothetical situations that might become the focus of a case (or a problem question in an exam) in the future
* what principles underlie the law
* why the law has developed in the way it has
* why the decision in a particular case that was decided in the past was fundamentally flawed with the result that the case should be ignored
* why a particular case that was decided in the past is extremely important

If you don’t read cases you are turning your back on all these insights and your notes will be much the poorer for it.

3 Reading cases encourages you to think about the law. If you read a line of cases, you start to think – how do these cases fit together? Does one principle underlie all of them or more than one? What principle or principles are at play here? By thinking in these terms, you enhance
your understanding of the law and your interest in it. If you don’t read cases, then you will miss out on lots of opportunities to deepen your understanding of the law and thereby increase your interest in it.

4 Reading cases helps you to see that in many situations, the legal outcome of a case was not fixed in stone before the case was ever heard. Both sides to a case may have good arguments on their side. It’s simply not possible in many cases to predict what the judge will say. Reading cases makes you realise this – and that, in turn, will make you
into a better student when answering problem questions.

5 Reading cases makes studying law more interesting than it otherwise would be. You get to see how the law has in the past impacted on real people’s lives, real people’s problems. The law comes to life in and through cases. Why wouldn’t you want to read cases? Cases are the soul
of the law – without them, the law can become very dull and turgid.

January - How to put your point across effectively

A few tips to building an argument

Work out your argument
Write it down in one sentence. With oral presentations you must
make your argument as concise as possible. Ideally it should be
articulated in only one or two clauses. Oral arguments favour
short and bold statements. Whereas there is plenty of opportunity
in written work for the use of numerous qualifiers and indications
of provisionality, in verbal presentations such manoeuvrings can
easily become confusing and tedious to audiences. A certain level
of provocation, even to the point of slightly overstating one’s
case, is often exactly what is required to make people sit up and
start listening to you.

Work out your structure
For a talk of about 15 minutes you will probably need three or perhaps four main sections. Shorter time periods may be divided into two. Anything over 20 minutes allows you to go up to five sections. However, this is the limit: any more than this and your talk will become list-like and confusing.

Reduce your material to notes
This is as necessary for PowerPoint users as it is for everyone
else. From each of your sections take the key points and type
them up. Key sentences that sum up whole sections or key ideas
should be written down in full (these will need to be delivered with
emphasis, so find a way of highlighting them). Do not be afraid of
repeating key points. It is especially useful to repeat basic contentions made at the beginning sometime in the middle of your talk and then again at the end.

The start of your talk needs to include the same elements that
commence any good essay. A statement of your central argument
and a statement of the structure of your talk are both essential.
Similarly, at the end you will need to return to these elements and
make a concluding claim (for example, ‘What I have shown in this
talk …’, ‘This confirms my original argument …’).