Please note that the exam guidance below has been compiled using the guidance provided by University of London in their various Q and A Sessions, among other sources including faculty members own techniques. All students want to succeed on the exams that they sit for and in order to achieve their goals, they put in the required effort; they learn the law; they memorize case names, different principles, and legislative provisions and yet they are unable to get their desired grades. This is because they have been unable to develop the correct exam techniques which is crucial for success in any exam.
There are generally two types of legal questions that are asked by the examiners in the UOL exams:
– Essay based questions
– Problem based questions
Essay based questions
Essay based questions are not a popular choice for the students and those who do attempt essay questions, do not tend to score well. This is due to the fact that students do not know how to effectively answer essay based questions. Every essay will require critical analysis of the topic being examined. This can take the form of a statement or a quote issued by the examiner and students must discuss the statement or the examiner would target a particular discussion point and expect the students to critically assess the current law. With essay questions, you cannot escape critical analysis. You
build your skills of critical analysis by reading the Essential Reading and having intellectually stimulating discussions with your peers or your faculty members. Every essay question should be structured effectively and must include the following three parts:
An introduction should be used by every student to let the lecturer know what their answer is about. Start with a general statement and then become more specific. This is where the 15 Minutes Reading Time becomes extremely useful. Use that reading time to think about what approach you will take and why. An Introduction should clearly say whether you agree with the statement/quote provided in the question or the area of law that you have been asked to assess. If you agree with the statement/law, you should clearly state, “Yes, I agree with the statement because of 3 reasons, A, B and C” or “No, I do not agree with the statement because of 3 reasons, A, B and C.” At this stage you should be mindful that your conclusion should support your introduction therefore it is integral to think your answer through prior to commencing the question.
The body of your essay is where the real marks actually lie. There can be up to 2 – 4 different paragraphs which are descriptive in nature and describing the area of law that you have been asked to assess followed by 2-4 paragraphs of
critical analysis. The descriptive paragraphs may include historical background, operation of the law, current legislation and case laws. You can also use case laws to support the points /arguments that you have asserted in your introduction.
You can choose to add the critical analysis within the descriptive paragraphs or if the time allows, you can add evaluative paragraphs after the descriptive paragraphs. In order to successfully attempt an essay question, your evaluative paragraphs need to possess clarity of argument must be outstanding and they can only do so if there is academic debate and views of different judges/academic jurists, Law Commission proposals or professors and authors comments mentioned within the body of the answer. Students are expected to base their discussions on academic authority which is rooted in academic debates. Since majority students do not look into what different authors/professors have commented on an area of law, it is always helpful to use judgments of landmark decisions. Students can use majority decisions to
support their view and can even make use of dissenting judgments to back up their arguments, where necessary. Your essential reading includes all landmark judgments including majority and dissenting judgments which you can use in your essays.
Remember, if you answer essay questions as an all-you-know type of answer where you are regurgitating your knowledge of the topic without any analysis, you will not score decent marks; you may even fail for not answering the question asked. Remember, Quality over Quantity.
Another important tip is to keep your answer objective. You can give your opinion on the area of law, the reason why the law is not achieving it true purpose, the gaps in the law but ensure that you back up your opinion with academic debate.
Your conclusion should support your introduction in order to attain a high mark on the essay. A common mistake is a student starting in the introduction in one way and the conclusion is completely opposite because the student has realized material points while doing the essay. Therefore, it is always advisable to plan the essay before starting.
Problem based questions
Problem based Questions are a popular choice for students and they do tend to score better as compared to essay based questions. The tip to perform well on problem questions is to answer them logically. Identify how many defendants or victims you have in the question. If there is more than 1 victim and you have been asked to advise ALL parties, it is imperative to deal with each victim separately. If you do not, you will lose marks. In order to answer problem questions logically, you can use the universal method of IRAC:
*The most important part of any problem question for any subject.
Identify what the issue is: this usually will be the starting for any problem question. Unless you identify what the areas of law this problem question covers you may not be able to answer the question effectively. In more times than not, there are more than 1 issues in problem questions. For example:
- Is there an agreement between the parties?
- Can the Defendant be, liable for murder or manslaughter?
- Has causation been satisfied?
- Do the facts point towards any particular defence?
The Rule refers to the law regarding the issue highlighted. This would mean case laws and legislation governing the area of law. You are required to mention the existing law as this is where you are marked for your knowledge. For example:
- Adam v Lindsell is the main authority for the creation of postal rule which states that the acceptance letter, upon correctly posting will take effect.
- The case of Ivey states that the test of dishonesty will be an objective test.
- Legal causation comes from the case of Smith in which the prosecution must prove that D’s act/omission was the substantial cause of the harm.
The Application section carries the most marks in Problem based questions. This is where you apply the law stated above to the existing case study/scenario that has been provided to you. So, if the question revolves around X killing Y, you will have to use the law on murder provided in the case law/legislation above and apply to X and Y.
Conclusion is the final part of any answer, where based on your application of the law above, you provide a conclusion. According to the law and the application, is X guilty of murder or manslaughter. You will write your conclusion in every answer.
You have to repeat the same IRAC process for each issue. Each issue has to be identified, the law relating to the issue has to be mentioned and then applied to the given scenario with a conclusion. In an average question for Criminal Law on homicide, you may have the following issues:
- Is it Murder or Manslaughter?
- Do the facts indicate any possibility of partial defences?
- Has causation been satisfied?
- Are there any full defences that may be applicable?
- Are all the requirements of the chosen defence satisfied?
Each issue has to be considered in detail, the law in relation to it should be
mentioned and then applied to the facts with a logical conclusion to follow.