Exam period is approaching so it’s worth stocking up on tips on how to get the best of your revision.
Scoring high marks in exams is not just about what you know or how much you know, rather it is how you apply your knowledge. You have to be strategic and follow a structure. Due to this, most of exam success is built during the revision stage.
The most common question asked by students is “how do I revise? Cue cards, notes, highlighting, past papers?” Everyone has their own method of revision and it depends what works for you so experiment with different methods at the early stages so that when it comes closer to your exams you know what process to follow. Some people can absorb information by merely reading and highlighting, but if you’re like me then you need to be writing and amalgamate your own notes for it to sink in.
Many students attempt to memorise information. While this can be tempting, it is not the recipe for success, mostly due to the volume of information you need to know. Often there isn’t enough time to go over all your notes and then go back to memorise them. In addition, solely memorising is a risky game because if for whatever reason you forget a paragraph or a sentence it will be very difficult for you to improvise. Rather, try to understand what you are reading, that way the information becomes logical to you and so you are more likely to remember it.
There is a difference between making your notes look clear and memorable and wasting time on making them look “pretty”. 3 distinct colours are more than enough to use when making notes. One for outlining cases, one for legislation and one for analysis. Don’t go crazy highlighting everything on the page just to make yourself feel as though you’ve learnt it all. The most important thing to keep in mind throughout your revision is being realistic. After going over a topic ensure that you have thoroughly understood the material, that you have enough points to discuss and sufficient legal authorities to support those points.
For information that is quite verbose, create memorable analogies. It sounds cliché but the more you try to make revision “fun” the less painful it is to learn. For instance, the law on Mens Rea in criminal law has significantly developed over the years, so you need to know the specific journey that the common law has taken in this area. In order to make it easier to remember, I turned it into a story with each stage symbolising a new twist in the plot on the road to establishing intention.
When you have tonnes of notes for one topic it can be very daunting because you think “where do I start?” The key is to constantly simplify your notes. I usually end up with 2-3 versions of the same notes just before my exam, each version being more condensed than the previous. Just think, in the exam you do not have the time, nor would it be productive for you to write 10 pages on the formation of the contract when the question warrants a discussion of formation of the contract, certainty, consideration and promissory estoppel. This is again where understanding the information is more beneficial than memorising. The more you understand, the less detailed your notes have to be because a simple phrase will be able to trigger your memory.
Don’t try to learn everything! More often than not there is an endless number cases on each topic but you are not expected to know all of them. For example, if there are two cases on one point of law, both drawing on the same conclusion, only learn one. Instead, use that time to learn another point of law to add to your answer.
Use the same structures for your notes as you would to write an essay and a problem question. For instance, if you’re revising theft start with a brief introduction on theft including, the statutory section explaining what theft is and then break the section down into elements. For instance, s.1(1) of Theft Act 1968 provides that a person is guilty of theft if they ‘dishonestly appropriate property belonging to another with the intention to permanently deprive the other of it’. Firstly, assess what ‘dishonesty’ is including the cases to prove it then ‘appropriation’ and so on. Lastly, draw some overall conclusions and leave a paragraph where you discuss academic opinion including any potential controversies or suggestions for reform.
There are many topics to revise within a module.
- Be strategic and spend more time on the larger topics and what your lecturer also emphasised the most. Avoid dedicating a lot of time to topics which you “like” or find easiest. It’s probably the ones you find hardest that you need to spend more time understanding.
- Look at past papers and trends in what types of questions appear on the exam. Whilst it’s dangerous to try and predict questions, making reasonable and smart observations on “hot topics” is fine.
- Often, the more controversial an area of law is, the more likely it is that your lecturer will want to include it in the exam as there will be larger scope for discussion.
- Keep up to date with the news. If a social/political/economic consequence of a change in law or a particular area is currently a topic of discussion, again, the more likely it is that your lecturer would be interested to know your view on it.
In my opinion, there is an over emphasis on doing past papers. Instead, by constructing your notes in the same structure that you’d use for your exam answers, you will be well prepared but with the added flexibility that you can adapt your knowledge to any type of question. In this way, you won’t panic if your “favourite question” doesn’t come up.
Overall, the main thing to remember about revision is that it is about quality. Not quantity. Clearly, revision period will involve long hours but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you have studied for 12 hours a day that this guarantees your exam success. To ensure that you are being productive throughout, it helps to ask yourself, “could I answer a question on this in an exam?”.