As the title tells, this is a post for whoever wishes to study or is currently studying law subject for Cambridge International Examination (CIE) A Level. As a top scorer for A-Level Law in the world, I would love to share some ‘tips’ for scoring well in this subject which I sure hope will benefit anyone out there.
1. Be willing to work hard and be persistent.
It goes without saying that hard work and persistence are the vital elements of success. I never consider myself a highly intelligent person but I believe in both hard work and persistence strongly. Studying for any subject requires us to pour in our hard work in order to score well, law is no exception except for the fact that you have to brace yourself for a tremendous amount of reading.
There is no shortcut on this road. Not only are there no shortcuts, the mere intention of searching for any shortcuts should be seriously condemned. On days when you wish to skip reading the essential texts and relying on notes handed out by tutors or lecturers instead, it is a time for reflection of the reason behind your pursuance of knowledge. Broad knowledge is vital in reading law. The more extensively we read, the more knowledge we gain and the better our essays will be (subject to your construction of essays).
I would advise law students who aim high to read extra materials such as articles written by legal academics. There are these so-called ‘databases’ where you could access to a fountain of articles – among the most popular sites are Westlaw and LexisNexis. I did not subscribe to these sites and in fact did not use any specific website for my research. Instead, I googled whatever topics that I wished to know more of.
Persistence is another key factor of success. US president Calvin Coolidge said it well: ‘Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.’
There will of course be days when you screw up an essay. There will of course be days when you find it hard to understand what the texts are talking about. However, the key is to persist through all these setbacks. I personally had written bad law essays but this does not mean that I will be writing ALL bad essays. I too had found reading law daunting at first especially with all the legal jargons. However, remember to continue moving forward and see each setback as an experience to hone your legal skills. Reading law and writing law essays do not come easy. However, it will eventually become easier and easier as days go by and of course you have to actually do something. Merely staying idle waiting for miracles to happen just will not do. What to do then? Stay persistence and keep writing law essays and keep reading broadly. Do not give up easily! You will get there.
2. Remember that you are allowed to rest.
Although as law students we have to sacrifice most of our free time reading (this is perhaps an inevitable fact), please do allow ourselves some time to unwind! Have sufficient rest to avoid study burnout. When you are feeling mentally foggy or heavy with all the reading, take a break from all that and just chill around. I personally love watching funny videos on YouTube and listening to music whenever I am feeling stressed in the midst of reading.
When our heads get heavy we will not be able to absorb fully whatever we read. So getting rest is a wise decision to make before you continue with all the work ahead! When you are feeling much refreshed, start again.
3. Have a plan/timetable.
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of planning ahead and making yourself a timetable. This is so important because it allows us to look at a bigger picture and review what we have done during the days. Each day, note down the chapters or topics that you wish to cover and work on sticking to your own personal timetable. The pace of study really differs according to each person.
Although having a timetable/plan is essential, it does not mean that we have to stick to our plan completely ignoring the surroundings. We have to be realistic and acknowledge that things may not go the way we plan because life happens. What we need is both consistency and flexibility. First, we have to make a ‘realistic’ timetable for ourselves. Do not attempt to aim finish reading three chapters in a day. Such a planning is not sound and will drain us eventually. Buy a planner and write your plan in pencils (erasable) if possible so that you could keep your timetable ‘flexible’. Some days when you do not complete the tasks you set yourself for, push the tasks to the next day and try your best to complete them. Hence, I would advise to always insert some ‘gap days’ ie days when you do not give yourself any tasks in your timetable.
For example: 11.2.2016 – read offer and acceptance (a contract law chapter) and do notes on this topic12.2.2016 – read offer and acceptance and do notes 13.2.2016 – read offer and acceptance and do notes 14.2.2016 – read consideration (a contract law chapter) and do notes 15.2.2016 – 16.2.2016 – read consideration and do notes
*15.2.2016 will be what I term a ‘gap day’ – if you do not finish your tasks as planned, then try your best to finish them on this ‘gap day’
It works differently for everyone. This technique is a mere suggestion of mine and you could always stick with whatever works for you. The important thing is to make yourself a plan/timetable.
4. Be slow yet steady.
The thing about this culture we are living in is that basically everything has to be done fast. The faster, the better. The advice we usually get is to finish our studies fast and get a job that pays high or at least pay adequately. Of course there are advantages in attaining early financial independence, however, it really works differently depending on each individual. Being fast does not necessarily equate to being good (except in the field of some sports and perhaps the internet in this technological era). The worst thing that could happen is that you aim to finish your studies fast and do not wish to be ‘left behind’ hence are not willing to put in more time in learning and later fail the papers again and again.
I personally deferred my A2 level exams from May 2015 (when my peers were supposed to sit for the exams) to October 2015 because I wanted to spend more time in learning the law better. I do not fancy getting into the exam hall without at least preparing well. This means that I am inevitably ‘left behind’ and my peers move ahead. However, whether this is a disadvantage pretty much depends on each person. This is my way of doing things and I accept that I need more time to work better. I had a friend (her identity is kept private) who failed her AS level exams in October 2014. However, she did not heed the advice of postponing her resit exams and A2 level exams to October 2015. She wanted to do it all in May 2015 (with everyone in the class) instead. The results were devastating. She failed the exams again and changed the course.
In this fast-everything era, ‘slow and steady’ is perhaps going out of date but perhaps there are still advantages to it. The key is to know your capability well and then assess how far you could go. If you need more time to work things out, by all means go ahead. The fear of being left behind is best left behind.
‘Tranquility and peace are found in identifying our path and in sticking to it – we don’t need to constantly compare ourselves with other people or change our mind every three seconds based on new information’ – pg 23 ‘The Daily Stoic’ by Ryan Holiday
5. Understand the concepts.
In exams, we have to analyse the problem scenarios in order to apply the law. Hence, understanding the law is a very important factor. I have often heard people say memorising is important. Yes, it undeniably is, but without understanding the law, merely memorising is rather pointless. Thus, be sure to understand the law before memorising and applying it. The way I had used to test whether I had understood the law was by doing my own notes.
Be hardworking to do your own notes! Do not rely completely on lecture notes.
Here’s a link to a post describing some useful notes-taking techniques – How To Take Study Notes: 5 Effective Note Taking Method
1# Be prepared with an answer frame for each chapter before sitting for the exam.
We will be given 1 hour and 30 minutes for law paper and we are required to write 3 essays. Breaking this up, there will be 30 minutes for us to finish one essay, so there is very limited time for us to think long before starting to write.Hence, having an answer frame and knowing the important points to write beforehand definitely help a lot.
2# Write fast.
It is pretty obvious that we have to write fast given that the time is so limited but please ensure that your handwriting is legible.
Be prepared to train your hand muscles!
Last but not least, do your VERY BEST in this.Do not possess unnecessary expectations.Do not focus too much on the outcome.Focus on the journey instead and give in what you have.
‘I derive satisfaction from knowing that, quite irrespective of the actual outcome, I’m doing my best.’ – Massimo Pigliucci
Last edited: 6th November, 2018
About the AuthorMs. Goo Yee San believes that knowledge and education could make the world a better place. She took CIE A Level at Brickfields Asia College for year 2014/15 and was awarded the prestigious Cambridge Top in The World award for Law subject for the Oct/Nov 2015 session.
She writes at www.sheriselawstudies.wordpress.com
You could reach her at [email protected]