How to learn case law for your exams

This post has been contributed by Charlotte Crilly, Teaching Fellow for the Undergraduate Laws Programme.

So you’ve got a case list as part of the module you’re studying. And now you’re wondering what to do with it! How should you memorise these cases for the exam? And how much of each case should you learn anyway – the facts, the summary, or as much of the judgment as you can? This blog post gives you tips and ideas about learning case law for the exam. Try some out and let us know how you get on, by leaving a comment.

Making case cards

Try making yourself some case cards as an aid to memorisation. This is what to do:

  • Choose a case that you want to learn for the exam.
  • On one side of an index card or small piece of paper, write the name of the case.
  • One the other side, write the key facts and key point of law for the case.
  • Make similar cards for all the cases you want to learn.
  • Take the cards with you wherever you go, and test yourself often. You can look at the name of the case and try to recall (without looking!) the key facts and points of law. Or you can look at the facts and points of law, and try to remember the name of the case.
  • Get together with friends and test each other on cases. You can ask other students or just with friends and family.
  • You can use these homemade case cards in lots of other ways too. Choose a past exam question from the past papers on the VLE. Think about the question, and choose case cards which would help you to answer the question. This will help you to really think about the cases and how you can use them in the exam.

Other types of case notes

  • You could make brief case notes on larger pieces of paper, and stick these up on the walls where you live, work or spend time. You can read the case notes as you go about your daily life, and test yourself in spare moments.
  • Perhaps you are a visual learner? Try making a mind map or spider diagram about the main points in the case and see if that helps you to remember them. Or you could even draw pictures to remind you of cases!
  • As an alternative to making your own case cards, you could use an online tool for testing yourself with flashcards. You could use a program like Anki or Quizlet or there are many other online programs available.

What information do I need to learn?

First of all, most law modules will contain a considerable amount of case law, and you can’t hope to learn every detail of every case. So you need to be selective. Remember too that you’re not learning cases in isolation, but to answer essay questions about specific legal topics or to answer legal problem questions. Your understanding of the legal principles of the cases and how they can be applied to questions is crucial – it is not enough just to be able to recite the facts of a case.

Keep your notes relatively brief. Write in bullet points or short phrases. Use abbreviations. These should then jog your memory when you are in the exam. If you write long sentences or copious information about the case, you are unlikely to remember if all in the exam.

Make sure you include these things in your case notes:

  • Which court the case was heard in, and in which year.
  • The material facts. These should just be brief – exclude anything that is not relevant to the reason for the court’s decision.
  • The key legal principles – you will probably need several bullet points for this. Think carefully about what the ratio of the case is.
  • Key details about any dissenting judgments.
  • The case’s relationship to any other important cases – has it been affirmed, considered, distinguished in any other cases?

Example from Legal System and Method

Adler v George [1964] 2 QB 7 (Queen’s Bench Division)
Facts:

  • D obtained access to prohibited place within meaning of the Official Secrets Act 1920 – air base.
  • D was within its boundaries when obstructed a member of forces engaged in security duty.
  • Charged with having obstructed in the vicinity of a prohibited place.
  • Argued: not in vicinity of a prohibited place since he was actually in a prohibited place.

Decision (Lord Parker CJ):

  • Court applied golden rule.
  • Extended literal wording of the statute to cover the action committed by D.
  • Had the literal rule been applied, it would have produced an absurdity.

Once you find a method of learning case law that works for you, you can apply the same method to statutes, summaries of module guides, and more!

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