Exam tips

Here are a few practical tips to ensure that you get the best out of yourself in an exam. 

1.      Read the instructions at the top of the paper carefully. Usually you will need to answer some questions from part A and some from part B and mistakes can be costly. The format of the exam generally stays the same, but you can’t guarantee this absolutely – if you always take time to read the instructions carefully you won’t get caught out!

2.      Watch your timing! Typically you will have 3 hours in which to answer 4 questions (but see note above about making sure you read the rubric, just in case this is not your situation!). This means that you will only have about 40 minutes per question. After this time you need to finish and move on to the next, even if you feel you could say more. You can always leave a gap and go back to fill in any ‘extras’ at the end, if you have time. To do this requires real self discipline, and can be very hard to do, but it is worth it. It is far easier to pass the exam with 4 complete ‘so-so’ answers than with only 3 (or fewer...) good ones. Failure to answer all of the questions required is one of the most common causes of disappointing exam results, especially for otherwise very capable students, so don’t let it happen to you!

3.      Answer the question! This sounds very obvious, but you would be surprised at how many examination scripts fail to do this. Students are often disappointed because they have revised hard and remembered a lot of information but still gain poor results – and this is usually the reason.

Essay questions

When you have spent a long time revising it can be a huge temptation to look at a question, see that it mentions, for example, ‘consideration’ and launch into 4 pages of writing down everything you can remember about consideration....regardless of whether it relates to the question. Avoid this approach at all costs! Read the question carefully and make sure that your answer is clearly focused on it. Of course you want to display your hard earned knowledge, but you do need to make it appear relevant.

Ensure that essays are always well structured (it pays to take a little of your time to sketch out a brief plan first) and have an introduction, a body and a conclusion. The introduction and conclusion must refer directly to the question asked, and it helps if you can refer back to it a time or two in the body of your essay as well. This will help keep you focused and will do wonders to persuade the examiner that you are well focused, even if you have wandered slightly!

Remember that the examiner has probably slaved for hours selecting an appropriate quotation to use or carefully crafting a question to provoke interesting answers.  Nothing is more annoying to an examiner than reading a pile of answers that have plainly failed to appreciate this artistry and have offered a whole lot of waffle that has nothing to do with the question! It is almost certain that every examiner will have to wade through a large pile of ‘write all you know about...’ irrelevant answers. Imagine the joy when he/she happens upon your clear, relevant and well-focused answer! Commonsense dictates that a happy examiner is far more likely to be generous than an irritated one!

Problem questions

The same basic advice applies as to essays – keep your answer relevant. Some problems can be very complex, so make sure that you lay out your answer as clearly as you can – this makes it easier to mark and you want to keep that examiner happy!

The basic technique for answering a problem question is to take each point as it comes and a) state the law, b) cite authority (if you don’t use authority, you haven’t stated the law!) and c) apply the law to the facts of the question. Most answers fall down on c), but this part is vital. Anyone with a good memory can learn the law and slavishly recite it but only good candidates, with a real understanding of the subject, are able to apply what they have learned to the given set of facts. As with essays, above, the examiner has thought carefully about the question and created a set of facts to provoke certain responses...and it’s only good manners to show that you have noticed! Do refer explicitly to the facts in your answer.

e.g. A question tells you that Farmer A said to Farmer B, “I would like to buy that horse from you for £30. If I don’t hear anything from you I’ll assume we have a deal.” Farmer B was happy to sell his horse to Farmer A for £30, so didn’t respond.

Student 1 explains generally all about offer and acceptance and, as part of this explanation, comments on the fact that silence cannot normally constitute acceptance, citing Felthouse v Bindley as authority.

Student 2 states that an offer should be firm and definite and clearly communicated to the offeree and notes that Farmer A’s statement “I would like to buy that horse from you for £30” meets these criteria. It goes on to say that the statement “if I don’t hear anything from you I’ll assume we have a deal” is very close to the facts of Felthouse v Bindley and, in this case, it was decided that there cannot be an acceptance by silence, even when the other party is seemingly happy with the agreement, as is the case with Farmer B in this scenario.

Which answer do you think would score higher marks?

Both of the above answers appear to show knowledge of the law but in Student 1’s answer there is a lot of general explanation and no real specific application. From the examiner’s point of view it is not entirely clear whether this student fully understands the law and is able to apply it, or whether the mention of acceptance by silence and Felthouse v Bindley was just a lucky hit!

Student 2’s answer is much better. The examiner is left in no doubt that the student understands the issues clearly and is confident in applying them to a given set of facts. This student has clearly recognised all of the issues within the facts and has made use of them to show detailed and specific application. The student in this case doesn’t necessarily remember any more information than the Student 1 (he/she may even remember less!) but the answer technique is much better and will gain far more marks.


4.      Finally..........you are aiming to revise well and remember as much information as you can for the exam, but do keep in mind the fact that showing a real understanding is far more important than proving that you are Mr Memory!

Of course you need to cite authority for statements of law and, ideally, you need to remember cases and dates. However, no one is perfect and there may be a time in the exam when you just can’t think of the name of the case....it can happen to everyone! If this happens, don’t just skip the authority – it’s far better to say “as in the case where the granny, granddaughter and lodger filled in the competition” than it is to miss it out completely. This will tell the examiner that you know what you are talking about, even if exam nerves got the better of you for a moment.

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