How to cram for a law exam

GDL legal exams are tough, but with solid revision notes and a little help from your friends, you should get by

Those of you taking a graduate diploma in law (GDL) this year are now firmly into revision season. Condensing a legal degree into one year is no mean feat – time is very tight and as the exams approach you may not feel like you understand anything. But keep going; many subjects won't come together until the final few weeks. Here's a few tips to help you on your way.

Be like Bruce Lee

When struggling with exhaustion and time constraints, it is tempting to take a gamble and focus on learning just a few areas really well, hoping that these topics will come up in the exam.

However, law students are warned against this as it is unnecessarily stressful. It leaves you backed into a corner, without a choice of questions to answer. In the exam you might find yourself forcing square blocks into round holes if you try to apply what you have learned to .

Examiners also now often set questions that mix topics and so you may struggle to answer a full question.

If you don't mind that kind of stress then go for it, but there are limitations to what you can achieve. Perhaps better to think of the GDL exams like preparing for a fight - flexibility will be your best asset. Bruce Lee says it best: "Be like water my friend… adjust to the object and you shall find a way around or through it."

Let them eat case

Broadly brush over your revision notes and make sure you have gone through decent structures for answering one question per module, whether essay or problem question. The structures should include the relevant principles of law, with case law and statute that best relate to it. Finally, note any remedies and defences available.

Try to avoid getting bogged down in the case law; there are more cases than it is possible to learn and you can waste time dwelling on this too much if you haven't yet grasped the principle. Think of case law as the cherry on the cake.

To learn key cases, try writing the case name on one side of a memo card and the facts on the other. Flicking through these cards and testing whether you know the name of the case just from reading the facts, or vice versa, will enable you to memorise them.

You will not have time during the exam to start finding your way around a piece of statute. It is really important to use the statutory extracts you will have access to in the exam as part of the revision process and learn the necessary signposts that will help prompt you. Do not be tempted to copy large passages into your answers as you will not get extra marks for this.

Teach a child

"If you can't explain it to a six-year-old," said Einstein, "you don't understand it yourself." You might struggle to find a six year old with the patience to learn about advanced law, but don't overlook the value of regularly testing your understanding of the law by writing out practice essay answers and applying what you know to a set of facts.

Pay attention to the question as every word is there for a reason and the facts may include some red herrings that examiners expect you to avoid. Going through past exam papers is the best way to do this and if you can do anything in the final weeks, this is what you should be focusing on. A good student will know the law but will also know how to apply it to the facts.

Finals thoughts

There are a few things you can do during the exam to ensure you get better marks. Sounds simple but keep your answers as neat as possible so that the examiner does not struggle reading the points you make. One teacher (who also marks exam papers) suggests leaving every left hand page in the answer booklet blank so that you have space to add paragraphs at the end of the exam, if you need to. It's easier to draw a line across to the blank page to add sentences into your answer than squeeze them between the lines you have already written.

It is also wise to write a plan before starting to answer the question, but more importantly not to cross it out. Crossed out words cannot be included as part of your answer and will not be marked. Therefore, if you run out of time, you may score a few extra points for those parts not included in your answer but features on your plan.

And most importantly, keep in close contact with your course friends as this will keep you sane when you are feeling like you really don't understand the law. They are your best support during these final few weeks of anxiety.

(Source: TheGuardian)


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