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About this book

This is an easy to use guide on how to complete the various types of assessment normally encountered in undergraduate law programmes. Encouraging students to apply the skills they have learnt, it covers a wide range of tasks including essay writing, giving presentations and moots, taking exams and completing dissertations.

Table of Contents

Why Should I?

Frontmatter

1. The Pragmatic Reason and the More General Reason

Abstract
You are a law student or a student studying law as part of another course. Although being a student is about many things that are outside the scope of this book, one of the main reasons is that you want to obtain the qualification for which you are enrolled. You can then use it to propel you onto the next stage of your life. This requires that you pass whatever assessments are built into the structure of your course. This book is about passing and then improving further.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

2. Why Do Students Fail?

Abstract
Why do students fail? You would think this would be obvious! Students fail because they do not know enough, they do not do enough work or they do not submit work when it is due. All these are reasons why students fail — but they are not the only ones. The surprising reason why many students fail is that they do not answer the question that has been set; they answer a related one. This is very easy to do, not only in exams but in assignments as well. Why? Because if you are fairly confident about something, it is very easy to convince yourself that the question is about that rather than about something you are less confident about.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

3. Description v. Analysis

Abstract
Demonstrating a principle without telling a story is one of the harder skills to grasp. In law it is very easy to tell stories. After all, you have all those wonderful case facts to play with, so why not use them? You do use them; the case is your authority and, as we said earlier, a law assignment is nothing without authority.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

4. Sources

Abstract
In the last chapter we looked at authority and how you need to use it to support your work. This chapter is about where you find your authority and how to judge whether a source is authoritative or not.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

5. Referencing

Abstract
We said we would come to referencing and you have probably understood from the earlier chapters one of the reasons that it is necessary: to provide the source of your authority so that your tutors will know that you have researched your topic and understand how authority works to provide the underpinning needed for an academic piece of work. There is a second reason which you might not have thought of: that is, the avoidance of plagiarism. Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s work as your own and is serious in any academic field but particularly so in law.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

6. A Sophisticated Approach

Abstract
What is a sophisticated approach to writing law assignments? One answer is: the approach which will achieve the top marks, and you do that, as we said earlier, by fulfilling the learning outcomes and marking criteria. We will look at these in respect of the various types of assessment you are likely to undertake in the later parts of this book but there are some general rules that need to be explored first.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

Essays

Frontmatter

7. Where Do I Start?

Abstract
You have been given an essay title and have been instructed to submit the essay by a specific date. What do you do? Apart from putting it off, which we will come back to, a common reaction is panic. What am I supposed to do? Although you may have been used to writing essays for school or college you have probably been given considerable guidance on them and you may have been able to submit drafts for correction before submitting the final piece of work. On a university law course this is unlikely to happen - the first submission is the real one. You will also have been given a word limit, typically 1500 to 2500 words, and have been told it must not be exceeded. This frequently produces one of two responses:
  • How do I find that much to say about what appears to be a very simple question?
    or
  • How do I fit it all in?
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

8. Planning and Research

Abstract
The first element of planning - and the one most students forget - is a timetable. So why do you need one? The worst way to do any piece of work is to leave it until the last minute and then rush an answer which will not be very good and will not obtain the marks it ought to. Yet this is very common with student assignments because it is always tempting to put things off until you have to do them - that’s human nature. There are some people who can work this way and produce something good but for most people a good essay involves taking the time to work out where the essay is going over a period of time.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

9. Developing a Structure

Abstract
As was said in Chapter 3, what is important in an essay is that it answers the question. You will not be asked to write an essay, either as a piece of coursework or in an examination, which simply requires you to reproduce the relevant material from either your lecture notes or a textbook. So do not do it. One of the keys to avoiding reproduction is to develop a structure for your answer which makes sure that you have examined all the points relevant to the question you have been asked.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

10. The Body of the Essay

Abstract
Once you have defined the terms of the question as described in the previous chapter, and you have completed, for the time being at least, your research and so have assembled material from books, cases and journal articles, the question arises of where you go from there. One answer is to start writing the rest of the essay and see how it develops — but that is not the preferred answer. The reason for that is that you are embarking on a journey with the starting point, your question, and the end point, your final answer, fairly well defined. If you start off in the general direction of the answer you will probably arrive eventually. However, in the process you are likely to go out of your way; you may become lost and have to turn back to find where you should be and the whole journey will have taken longer than it should have. You will probably have had to discard part of what you have done because it does not fit or takes you over your word limit. No matter which of these applies, they will all have one effect in common, that you have wasted time.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

Problem Questions

Frontmatter

11. Why Do We Do Them?

Abstract
The problem question is a widely used vehicle for testing the knowledge and understanding of the law student. To those who have never come across them before they may, at first, seem daunting. Usually they involve dispensing advice to one or more imaginary claimants or defendants. It is this advising that often leads students to make their first mistake: failure to ignore reality.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

12. Planning and Research

Abstract
Structure is all-important in dealing with a problem question. As we have said before, if you do not consider your structure you may end up missing something out of your answer or, worse still, not answering the question at all but simply writing out your notes on that particular topic. The latter will gain you few marks.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

13. Developing a Structure

Abstract
In our experience, one of the most difficult things about writing a problem answer is actually putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. You have identified the relevant legal issues and you have investigated these further through your research - but how do you use this information to construct an answer? Where do you start? The question asks you to ‘Advise X’. What does this require in practice?
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

Presentations

Frontmatter

14. Why Are They Different?

Abstract
The answer to the question of why presentations are different involves examining the function of presentations: what are they there for? One answer is that it is difficult to call yourself a lawyer if you cannot stand up and speak. Go into any court and you will see that this is what the lawyers are doing - so one function of a presentation is presentation itself. You may think that you are not going into advocacy, either as a barrister or a solicitor, and so you do not need it. However, whatever path you decide to follow in your subsequent career you are likely to need to present in some form or other, to a client, a class or colleagues.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

15. Preparing the Presentation

Abstract
You have a presentation topic - you have either chosen one or been given one - and are now ready to begin your preparation. Where do you start? As with the other forms of assessment, the key is structure, so the first thing that needs doing is to look at where you can develop a structure from. Your lecture notes or textbook, or both, will give you the basic information you need to start. What are the most important elements to the topic? What cases have examined these elements and in what context? Having identified which element of the topic you wish to concentrate on, you can then decide which case or journal article will form the basis of your presentation. What is vital here is not to choose blockbuster cases: for example, Re A (Children) [2000] EWCA Civ 254, the case of the conjoined twins, is a popular case with students but is impossible as a basis for presentation because it is 81 pages long. One small aspect of it may be possible but the whole thing is not.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

16. How to Present

Abstract
Now that you have written your presentation, the question arises as to what you do with it. The one thing you do not do is just take the script with you and read it! Firstly, that would mean your head was buried in the script, giving the audience nothing to look at apart from the top of your head, which is unlikely to be your most expressive feature. Secondly, it removes from the presentation anything that would make it a presentation: that is, something to hold the audience’s attention, thus enabling what you are saying to be communicated. Most people have seen presentations or lectures done this way — you probably have, and know how awful it can be. The lesson must be not to do it.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

Moots

Frontmatter

17. What Are They?

Abstract
If you ask people - and by this we mean those involved in legal education - what a moot is, a large number will reply that a moot is a mock trial. It is not. In a trial you have evidence, witnesses for both parties, examination of witnesses, cross-examination and, if it is a jury trial, a summing up by the judge. In a moot you have none of these.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

18. Research for a Moot

Abstract
Researching for a moot is a much more specialised form of research than that for other forms of assessment. The reason for this is that the materials you research are only those that would be admissible in court. Normally this would exclude textbooks and journal articles but would include not only cases and statutes but also other materials such as Law Commission Reports or government White Papers on which the statutes were based.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

19. Presenting a Moot

Abstract
The general rules on presentation were covered in Chapter 16 (pp. 131–8), but presenting a moot is a specialised form and so you need to prepare carefully. What you are doing is mimicking what a barrister would do in an appeal but on a much smaller scale. As a result, the things you do must be what would be done in court.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

Exams

Frontmatter

20. Exam Preparation

Abstract
As was said in Chapter 1, students often approach staff quite late on in their degree programme, frequently just before final exams, and say that they ‘need’ an Upper Second degree. They are then asked what they have done to ensure this and the answer is ‘nothing’! It can never be stated too often that what you get out of your degree will reflect what you put into it, and this is particularly so in respect of exams. Why is this? The answer is that exams are a highly artificial form of assessment. It will be rare in real life that you have to work just with what you can remember on a problem you have not seen before and come up with a convincing answer in a very restricted timeframe. Yet this is what exams do. So why do we have them? Partly it is tradition. In the past assessments were examinations because requiring people to produce answers in a designated space and time meant that the examiners could be sure the candidates had produced the answers and not got them from elsewhere. Some academics are now re-emphasising this because of the availability of bought assignments.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

21. Sitting the Exam

Abstract
You have an exam. You have revised for it thoroughly and you go to the venue feeling confident, if a little nervous. You enter the exam room and find your place, sit down and arrange pens and anything else you have with you. The starting time arrives and the invigilator says you can now read the question paper. You read through the question paper, put it back on the desk and consider that this question paper is written in Icelandic. You think, ‘I do not speak Icelandic so I cannot do this exam.’ Did you think that this only happens to you?
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

Dissertations and Extended Essays

Frontmatter

22. Identification

Abstract
Dissertations and extended essays look like longer versions of the sorts of assignment you have become used to. An extended essay can be 5000 words or more and undergraduate dissertations 10,000 to 15,000 words typically. They also have another unusual feature, which is that you generally have some choice in the topic. This might be that you choose from a list or that you are given free choice subject to tutor approval. The combination of these two factors can be very good or very bad depending on the way they are approached, and so there are a number of things that need to be considered carefully.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

23. Research Strategies

Abstract
The first thing to be clear about in looking at research strategies for a law dissertation is what it is not. A law dissertation is not a social science dissertation. The corollary of this is that there should be no place in a law dissertation for primary social science research. Tutors frequently have students who, as part of their dissertation research, say that they want to do a questionnaire, either to distribute within the student cohort or to send to people with a particular interest in the area. Alternatively, they might say that they want to interview people to find their views on the topic area. This is a very bad idea. Firstly, law students have rarely studied social science research methods and so they do not have the expertise to design a questionnaire or structured interview or to analyse the results. Secondly, what use would it be? A student cohort is rarely one which would give statistically significant results, so would be of little use. If the aim is to send it to people outside the university, what incentive would they have to complete it and return it? If the answer is none, as it usually is, they probably will not do so. There is a third reason not to do such research. Generally, law dissertations do not require individual ethical approval before they are undertaken, as they should have group approval based on the dissertation module specification. If you choose to do a survey, both the questionnaire and the sampling method would need individual approval and this would require you to comply with your university’s ethics processes, which are normally time-consuming and bureaucratic. Satisfying them would take time which should be better used doing what you should be doing.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare

24. Writing the Dissertation or Extended Essay

Abstract
Writing is the important bit as this is what you will be marked on. However, if you have not done the earlier work sufficiently well, you will not be able to write a piece of work that will achieve the marks you want. That said, even if you have done the preparation and research you should have done, it is still easy to throw all that good work away by being careless with the writing up. There are three particular elements which you need to ensure are in place so that you minimise the risks to the project.
Dave Powell, Emma Teare
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