We’ve recently published as part of our Land Law Course Newsletter a series of Exam Hints. We thought they might be useful for other courses as well so we’ve opted to make them available here.
Remember you can access past exam papers and reports on the VLE – University of London student’s can access them at “Previous Exam Papers and Reports” on the homepage.
You can see the points below, or look at the colourful images at the bottom of the page.
Poor grammar and spelling: language is the lawyer’s tool and unless you learn to express yourself clearly and unambiguously you are bound to under achieve. Whether English is, or is not, your first language you can still hone your skills before the exam by reading articles and cases whilst listening to English language broadcasts and recordings on TV, radio and the internet.
Avoid waffle: too many students still seem to think that reciting rote learnt bookwork in the general area of the question will get them marks – it doesn’t and is irritating for the examiner. Focus on the question asked, and the issues raised, throughout your essay.
Avoid overlong introductions: start addressing issues from the outset in both essays and problem questions
Avoid repetitive conclusions: there is little point just repeating what you have said in your essay. Here is your chance to reflect on what went before by commenting on the law you have applied or the views you have considered. It might sound counter-intuitive but say something new in your conclusion.
Never quote chunks out of the statute book – we know you have it with you in the exam and give no marks for accurate copying.
Do not fill your answer with numerous and unnecessary case names – say just enough (ie a line) about the facts and judgment(s) to illustrate why you think a case is relevant. This shows the examiner you have read the case and have an opinion concerning it and its relevance.
Avoid ambivalence: both problems and essays are invariably set in the grey areas of the law where alternative arguments exist but that should not prevent you reaching a conclusion after considering the merits of the various approaches and explaining why you favour one over the other(s).
Avoid inventing new facts in problems: there is more than enough to say in the exam already and you should be careful not to add to the complexity, although that should not preclude you pointing out where a critical fact has not been revealed and explaining why that is significant.
Do not be frightened by ambiguity: a single judgment will often have a number of possible ratios on which jurists might well disagree, whilst those problems multiply where there is more than one judgment in a case. Do not ignore this complexity but make reference to it. The same is even true of statutes, on occasion, and likewise juristic writings – language lacks the precision of mathematics which is why poetry is beautiful and (some) lawyers rich!
Make sure you divide up your time sensibly and spend as long on your last question as on your first – it is much easier to get the first marks on a question than the last and consequently time spent perfecting your initial answer is counter-productive if you eat into the time you should be spending on your last answer!
Poor handwriting: most, if not all, students should consider writing on alternate lines as this invariably makes reading easier.
Use subheadings in your answer: judges do so, so why shouldn’t you? And if the question is in parts make sure you divide your answer likewise
Never question the facts in a problem – nor speculate on whether they can be proved. Think of yourself as a judge sitting in the Court of Appeal writing a judgment that has come to you in case stated form. You are there to apply the law to the given facts, willing to reject first instance decisions, overturn CA precedents and, although nominally bound by HL/SC decisions, still able to criticise or distinguish them.
Finally know the law (in so far as it is known), know the arguments (in so far as there is doubt over what the law is or should be) and know what you think – make sure you include your own opinion (although not exclusively and after giving due weight, but not undue deference, to case law and juristic writings).