Adam Doyle is the Head of Law and Criminology at the University of East London. You can view his Linkedin here.
What are the hallmarks of a first class degree in your experience?
‘A common misnomer is that all you need to get a first is to read the case list and the relevant text books. However, you also have to be able to demonstrate two further things. First, you have to bear in mind the learning outcomes on each module and for the programme overall and be able to demonstrate the competencies expected of you from those learning outcomes when answering a question. These learning outcomes should be readily available for you; they could be on the slides used in lectures and seminars or tutorials, or they are in your module guide or programme handbook. It is well worth reading these as they will help you shape your studies and revision to do as well as possible.
Secondly, remember that your answer is not only required to demonstrate knowledge but also application of your knowledge to the question set. This expectation is particularly important if you are answering an essay question. Remember to look at the tests or rules and see if they directly apply to the questions facts if you are answering a problem question- the material facts of the question may not be the same as the most relevant case!
Also remember that there are grey areas of law and rise to debate them if relevant to the question. If the area of law is controversial, be able to succinctly say where the areas of debate are and what the competing viewpoints are – and don’t forget to reach a conclusion as to what you think the answer should be! Don’t forget that a good answer will have an argument to underpin and justify it, in a similar way to what you will have to do when in practice.’
‘A full time degree should take about 40 hours a week including class time.’
How can law students best structure their university life during the year to be best prepared when it comes to exams in the summer?
‘It’s a good question and one I nearly learnt too late in my own studies. The first thing to remember is that it is not a sprint, but a marathon. This is particularly pertinent if you are studying a two year degree and therefore don’t have a semester off. You need to balance your time out across the year so that you are not too tired for the push when it comes to your assessment periods.
The second thing to remember is that life is about balance. This is not only between study and work, but also so you get down time as well. The brain is like a muscle and if you are pushing constantly without rest you are extremely likely to eventually face overload.
‘plan in times where you get time off and can let off steam.’
A full time degree should take about 40 hours a week including class time. Law degrees are recognised as being amongst the most intensive, so if you are taking longer than that do not panic! If you are working, or have other commitments as well as studying, then draw up a timetable for your work and add your classes to this. After this see where the gaps are where you can study. Ideally try and find these between 08:00 and 18:00 during the day. Evening study is not always as efficient as you may think. Finally, plan in times where you get time off and can let off steam. Human interaction is vital so do ensure you get to see those important to you on a regular basis.
‘Finally, the night before the exams should be spent relaxing as far as you can.’
When it comes to assessment periods, try and get time off from your work or other commitments if you can. Revision will be taking up more time, but do not forget to rest. Finally, the night before the exams should be spent relaxing as far as you can. Whatever you read the night before is unlikely to make much difference the following day, but a good night’s rest will make a difference.
‘I have seen good students give both sides of the argument, then fail to reach a conclusion.’
What is a common mistake you see students making in problem questions and how can they rectify it?
‘Over the years I have actually seen three main themes for issues. The first is the student who unfortunately has read the question quickly and not quite understood what the examiner is looking for. You don’t want to throw marks away by missing one of the key points or not covering one of the areas where there is a debate, especially if you are aiming for a high 2:1 or a first.
‘many potentially excellent exam scripts let themselves down with two brilliant questions and a third that is half a page long.’
Secondly, where there is an area of debate I have seen good students give both sides of the argument, then fail to reach a conclusion. If you have ‘advise the client’ or similar in the question rubric and then have ‘it will be up to the court to decide’ or similar in part of your answer, then you have failed to meet the requirements of the rubric. Don’t sit on the fence, but remember to justify the conclusion you reach.
Finally, don’t forget that you need to use the appropriate amount of time for each question. I have seen many potentially excellent exam scripts let themselves down with two brilliant questions and a third that is half a page long.’
‘It could be that you are spending too long on stating facts of cases and not applying the legal principles to the question…’
What piece of advice would you give students who are averaging a 2:2 on how to pull up their grades?
‘There are many reasons why a student may be averaging a 2:2. The first piece of advice is to read the feedback that you have been given on your practice questions or coursework. If possible, ask for feedback on your previous exams.
From this feedback you should hopefully be able to see where to improve. It could be that you are spending too long on stating facts of cases and not applying the legal principles to the question, or not answering all the points in the question. Relate the feedback to the learning outcomes in the modules and the programme overall to see the extent to which you are complying with what is expected. If anything is still unclear don’t be afraid to ask for help from your tutors.’