BLACKSTONE ACADEMIC MENTORING 30 MAY 2012
Handy tips for students, from students
Session 3, Preparing for exams
1. Exam Notes:
**Find what works for you**
If you've attended all of the lectures and made notes, you start in front. This is because the
lecturers write the exams.
If you try to LCS them all now, you have the potential to do the above.
The effectiveness of using past notes depends on how you go through them. It is
fundamentally wrong to think that the more notes you have, the better off you will be. Aim for
20-30 pages of crisp, well indexed notes (quality not quantity).
o If you are using someone else’s notes, make sure you check that they are correct, and
that you understand the structure of the notes (how it all fits together).
o If the law has changed in the last year, make sure you are not relying on out of date
o Re-format them in a manner that you understand and can work with. Don't waste time
in the exam, looking for something in your notes. If you're looking through the index of a
book or notes in the exam, you have a problem. The textbook should only be taken into
the exam for peace of mind.
Exams are an exercise of identifying the relevant issues (relevant portion of your notes) and applying
it to the facts. Thus exam notes should extract key principles, and succinctly summarise as well as
break them down. Their purpose is to serve as a trigger if your brain freezes or you get stuck in the
exam - a fall back.
**Notes should be useable and concise**
Summaries of the facts of cases are important, but not for all cases.
Know what your cases are for – some form the backbone of the course (are focused on by
lecturers), and some are there only as an authority for one principle of law.
o The facts of cases are not necessary for the latter, but for the former, you should
include a succinct summary of the facts in your notes.
o (The significant facts of a case are those facts which the decision hinged on/the facts
which determined the decision).
2. Preparing for exams:
Looking through past exam papers is of immense benefit because you can then understand how the
lecturer thinks (especially for equity or property), and some exam papers are repeated the following
year. After you have worked through them, sit down with other students and discuss the papers.
**If you are significantly behind in a unit, past papers are the best way to prepare yourself. Do not
spend all of study break trying to make the perfect notes**
The most important thing to take into the exam is a comprehensive set of notes that cover A-Z of the
unit. AND to know exactly where to find everything in those notes.
Text-book or lectures:
This depends on whether or not the lecturer gives a good summary of cases and your own personal
preference. If the unit has a good lecturer, listen to the lectures and even type the notes out again as
you go – greater chance of retaining the information that way, rather than just listening (not
necessary to look at the textbook). If the unit has a bad lecturer, do the opposite – look to the
Don’t start writing straight away. Think about what the issues are first, plan and structure your
answer. Decide which issues are addressing the most complicated areas of law and spend more time
on those issues. Don’t spend time on issues that aren’t issues – eg (Torts), if it is clear on the facts
that there is a duty, say there is a duty and move on because very few marks will be allocated to
Furthermore, don’t walk into the exam with assumptions of what you think you’ll need to write
about or what’s expected of you. Only write about what is relevant to the question put in front of
you. On that note, red herrings are a bit of a myth. Generally speaking, most facts in an exam
question are relevant in some way.
REMEMBER: apportion your time appropriately – according to the allocation of marks. If you spread
your time equally, you are more likely to get a D or HD. You don’t have time to give a perfect answer
so don’t get bogged down in one question or issue. It is hard to earn the top 5-10% of the marks in
one question; it is far easier to get into the thicker parts of the second question and earn marks
You will earn extra marks for citing case authorities. Most problem solving questions are just a
change of the facts of cases that you’ve learnt. Thus if you know the facts of the cases covered in the
course, and draw appropriate analogies you will receive higher marks.
This includes distinguishing cases on the facts, not just drawing out the similarities between them. Eg
Note that a case is different to these facts for these reasons and therefore won’t be decided in a
similar manner. Or note that that case and this case are similar in these two aspects, but are
different in this third aspect and so won’t be decided the same way.
You only need one case in an exam to support a proposition or principle of law. When you cite the
next principle, if you can, use a different case. This shows that you have a breadth of reading. If
you’ve cited the same case six or seven times, there is a problem, think more broadly.
NOTE: Only write the case names and even then, abbreviate them – full citations are not necessary
in an exam.
It’s about format, not just content. It’s about what you cover in the exam, not how much you write
so use headings because this directs the marker. It also forces you to stay structured, saving linking
sentences (which saves time).
Write neatly! It puts the lecturer on your side before they even start reading. You don’t want to piss
off the marker – it will hurt your chances of receiving a good mark.
Underline case names, use short sentences and short paragraphs.
Structuring your exam answer:
Units with clear doctrines/elements such as Equity - list the elements and discuss them (take
an element based approach).
Units such as Constitutional Law which are a metamorphous, don’t lend themselves to easy
analysis. Get the big picture and ask yourself – what issue does the exam question raise? Have
a conceptual picture of the different areas in your notes. Preparation is key – understand the
It is likely that there will be a question on manner and form - you can work your way through
this as it is fairly structured. With executive power, you need to understand what you are
dealing with. Move with precedent, focusing on judges rather than majorities. Start with
discussing a broad power, then pull out the facts from the exam question, then exit the
response with the general broad power again. There is no one answer – recognize the
alternative points of view and come to a reasonable conclusion. Probably state the conclusion
earlier than usual in this unit, then continue reasoning it through.
NOTE: You don’t have to strictly follow IRAC (Issue, Rule, Apply, Conclude) – IRAC is a guide.
ALWAYS COME TO A CONCLUSION - Spell it out. You may think it is logical from your analysis BUT
spell it out anyway, in case it isn't so obvious to the lecturer
REMEMBER - The law is never clear-cut. If everything is clear, with no grey areas, alarm bells should
be ringing. Look at both sides of the argument and discuss both sides. Recognise why a court could
conclude one way, and why they could conclude another way. Then note that on balance, you think
they’ll conclude this way (and state why).