The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Tag: Exams

Exams are over

364 days since this blog started with a call to the first year exams I’m finished my second year ones. They are harder, it needs said, and much less fun this time round. If you let your classes get away from you the catchup is like dealing with jetlag.

I’m going to list some of the topics I’ve been saving up while the exams were cramping my style as an advance warning:

Highbrow: MP Expenses
Lowbrow: Pens (I’ve had enough time with these lately to get fairly interested in them)
and some more

Eugh

I’ve made a rather major mistake. This is what I write an anonymous blog for – it’s not anonymous for my successes, I’d much rather my successes were projected onto the moon but it’s the mistakes and the “non-successes” and controversial news that anonymity’s good for. I’m about to give the reader an object lesson in keeping on top of your uni work.

I was 2 days late with my holiday assignment. That’s not the end of the world but it’s a big thing at uni, that’s a 10% deduction right off the bat. I took a very relaxing and unproductive Christmas break assuming that my one piece of imminent written work was straight forward and short and could be dealt with quickly and I would be able to pretend that my break was more intellectual and less lazy and fattening than it happened to be.

It was not. I came home from a lovely weekend away the morning before it was due and looked over it. It was gargantuan and meandered across three vastly different areas of law. I swore, loudly, because there was nothing else I could really do.

I then gritted my teeth and sat up until it was done, as it happens that was two days of solid 4 hours sleep one night, none the next toil, and grabbing food to eat at my desk. The room I’m sitting in currently is a bomb site with plates and cups strewn around sitting on top of open books and a sleeping bag in the corner and I’m only just calmed down enough to start tidying it up.

The desk’s surface is inexplicably covered in a detailed pencil study of a tree I can see from my window that was drawn at a particularly bleak point around dawn this morning that saw me hit a wall. It’s actually rather beautiful and I’m much prouder of it than I am the assignment.

It’s very grim. I have read enough to produce a treatise on three areas of law and then boiled it down to produce an essay far short of the word limit (read: word suggestion), that and the long hours staring at a computer screen have left my eyes bloodshot and weepy and I’ve never appreciated being able to sleep more in a long time. I can’t sleep though, I’m still feeling far too flush with adrenaline from trying to make it to the deadline (or at least before I ended up 3 days late) and that’s why I handed in such a small effort. I checked the delivery status of my assignment with my heart in my mouth and then I immediately got up to stand under the shower for 40 minutes.

I’m concerned because this is one of my feared “professional subjects” – the ones that decide your application to the post graduate Diploma in Legal Practice that’s pretty much a required step for the wannabe lawyer and the assignment was for a great deal more of the total mark than my other subjects and not only do these grades affect your entry to the diploma, they also affect the quality of the scholarships you may or may not qualify for. It’s a very expensive couple of months and a scholarship’s not to be sniffed at. As it happens I get my undergraduate degree fees paid for by Mr Salmond, if I’m honest I’d much rather he paid for my post graduate studies because I can much easier meet the subsidised fees I get written off by the SAAS each year.

Flunking an assignment for a professional subject isn’t the end of the world but it’s stressful and a needless headache if you had weeks with not much in the way of university obligations and it’s a task to make up the difference in the written exam later on if, really, you could have avoided it by just working through the new Jonathan Creek (although it was quite good) and Wallace and Gromit (which was its quirky, nostalgic, British golden self) . There’s a few subjects that you want to make sure you actually pass – your big credit earning ones, your professional subject and anything you took because a professional regulatory body told you to. This class here happened to be all three.

And when I say “you” what I mean is “me.”

My advice to any and all students is:

  1. Read your assignments over, not just the question but also the other bits of helpful paper you’re given.
    I thought I was dealing with a cute problem solving scenario to tear through using the textbook, Westlaw and the 4 part structure right until I discovered I was supposed to make it  the length of a small book the day I was supposed to send it to be marked.
  2. Have a diary or calendar that you use every day.
    I personally use my mobile phone’s calendar which lets me plug in all the dates that I’d possibly need (I’m not that busy a person 😉 ) and I’ve set it up to remind me either the week before or the day before before every appointment. It’s crazy and it’s over kill but it means that I know when I need to drag the sleeping bag under the computer desk. This particular assignment was left out in a memory full bug that was cured a good bit after the homework had slipped my mind and I thought it wasn’t due in until next week.
  3. Have a backup diary that won’t run out of memory at the worst possible time.
    I know, it’s incredibly tedious keeping a handwritten diary up to date but if I did it better I’d be sitting here thinking how generally smug I was that I got my coursework in on time.
  4. Be honest that you (meaning I) have the impulse control of a crack addict when it comes to doing anything that isn’t schoolwork.
    Sometimes, even if you’re even the most ardent law fan (as I like to think I am) you’ll realise that the holidays with all the friends who moved away to other towns coming home and seeing family and all the other parts of holidays is just much better than sitting reading the works of the institutional writers in an all-too empty library until your eyes start to puff up. Bite the bullet and get any work you need done, done. Then sit back and think how smug you get to be about it. One of my friends gets her assignments done at least 2 weeks before the due date and I’ve known her two years now and I still think she must have the discipline needed to only take one After 8 mint and I admire her in the same way I admire astronauts. That’s a bad sign. I’m great at reading but not so good at sitting down and doing the written work, try and get a balance in your own studies.

Final Exam

I felt today’s exam went well; I certainly left feeling good about my chances. I did three questions on the beginnings of contract and then afterwards took advantage of the bright sun to explore the West End – all in all a good way to end the university year. It’s been a very good year and I’m looking forward to the next.

I’d forgotten what I love about exams, the thrill when you go in and try to show what you can do. I had a bit of trouble getting up in the morning which surprised me as I’d taken the standard precautions in the run up to the exam – no late nights, going to bed in a regular schedule and using an alarm clock to wake me at the same time every morning – but once I was up I started to feel the butterflies in my stomach going as my adrenaline levels started to rise. It’s horribly geeky of me but I genuinely get physically excited at the prospect of exams, I truly love them. I don’t enjoy waiting for results as much but there’s something primal about a well done exam – it gets the heart rate up, maybe even causes a flush in some people and you simply show single minded focus on a set of intellectual challenges for hours of your life. It’s pretty unsurprising that I happen to enjoy quizzes for roughly the same reason.

I’ve never been able to understand why people wouldn’t like to do exams, I came close in maths, a field that both fascinates and escapes me at the same time, and I recognise the frustrated feelings that arise from the answer seemingly never coming. To my shame, when my friend in front asked “3 times 40 is 120, right?” I couldn’t place it, but she was timing essay change-overs like a true student, using maths in an English based subject, no less.

One new concept I had in my exam today was being able to bring a text to help. I brought Avizandum Legislation on The Scots Law of Obligations (3rd ed.) compiled by Laura J MacGregor, a really useful book to have. It seems insane to purchase this book when law schools provide students with easy access to online references via Westlaw and LexisNexis, and simply HMSO provides people with free access to statutes themselves but it proved its worth by simply being the book I was allowed to bring in (and, with that stamp of approval promptly went out of stock at the library for the rest of the year) and including a collection of books which my introductory course would not seem to attribute to the area of contract law, so I hope I can use the book again in future, I think it may be handy to have it on hand at Honours. I had expected the book to make the question asking about the effect of statute pretty much a case of reading the book and stitching the relevant provisions into a story. Not so, I actually found myself confused to the point of forgetting my original introduction to the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, in my 5th year at secondary, and somehow forgetting that the question was asking me a question on the effect of limitation clauses regarding personal injury. I talked a great game about the negligence of the company not being mentioned in the terms of the limitation and therefore the court would never support a hypothetical defence of a case of negligence but somehow skated past the answer I was expected (and, in truth, expecting myself) to give. I nevertheless quoted at length to prove my skeleton argument was supported by the facts and by provisions of the act, but somehow never going as far as to say “clauses which limit liability in the event of personal injury or death are void” and the reason for that slip evades me. I don’t think I will ever make that mistake again. I’m surprised that my practices with older papers never showed this problem but I think I wasn’t able to copy the adrenaline rush that I love so much in the exam experience and I couldn’t predict that I would react that way. That’s one risk of the exam day.

If you talk to students, not just this one, who have really prepared and enjoy the challenge and tried after an exam, they will either be emotionally and physically drained or euphoric. Today, since it was a shorter paper than we’ve become used to the mood was euphoric. There’s not much more satisfying to a serious student than a test which they have studied their hearts out for that comes off well for them. It’s a wonderful feeling to have and you leave the hall feeling psyched for anything, you feel “ready to run a marathon”.  Obviously, this same adrenaline rush will mean that a few hours later you will be yawning into your tea and snoozing on the bus but that initial buzz is well worth taking the exam.

Law school is hard, tedious, and long

(But it is not a bad experience.)

I should really say that Law School can be hard, tedious and long but conditionals lack punch in headlines.

Brute force memorisation of the common law principles of the Scots Law of Contract before an exam is hard, tedious and long but once you know the principles a little revision will keep them fresh in your mind and, if you play your cards right you will be able to have a book near by anytime you need to use them again. As far as I can tell the intent of time limited questions is to provide a good way of eliminating cheating and to train students to think on their feet. It’s also possible that it gives those students who are just out of school a familiar format of paper – that of the exam you dive on as soon as the invigilator says start.

It’s a million miles away from the slow, inexorable image of justice and wisdom which the profession, especially the judiciary presents. The number of case reports marked with cur. adv. vult. (curia advisari vult) show that a great deal of respect is placed to deliberate thinking and not immediate answers in the search for justice but at the same time it is not so strange a strategy for the profession to, in the first year at least, train their pupils to be able to process a question quickly and sketch out a passable answer using learned material. It’s not so good if your handwriting may not be the neatest in the world (I excuse myself by conceding that it is rapid if not beautiful) but that is a fault I may only lay at the doors of my handwriting teachers in primary.

The mixed nature of examination is another issue, perhaps in a move to even out the success of skin-of-teeth exam crashers over the slow and steady workers who, despite working harder fail to produce the same results on the day of an exam as the stunningly intelligent or very lucky. We’ve all been in classes with the stunningly intelligent. My favourite stunningly intelligent classmate spent two years of higher and advanced higher having a laugh in class, going as far as (myself as an honest witness) banging his head against the wall behind him and then going on to scoop the highest mark of the year, in a private school, twice. A stunning achievement and one I am frankly very jealous of because it was a great class that I sadly didn’t continue after higher. I counted myself among the very lucky and every results day had pangs of guilt when I scored higher than friends and classmates that I knew had worked harder than me throughout the year. (Readers will be glad to hear that luckily, for my conscience at least, this trend has since reversed.)

The worst side of the exam system is that I, strangely enough, left the hall after the exam feeling disappointed that there was not more. For example, before I started university, I spent a fantastic sixth year learning as much as I could retain about Shakespeare but come the exam there was only one question on Shakespeare and that question only asked about one elements of two of his plays. I had 90 minutes, give or take, to show what I had spent a year of my life doing and I couldn’t help wondering if this was a fair exchange – a year for 90 minutes of questioning.

However, time planning so bad it has on occasion alienated friends has also led to me not feeling as much love for the alternative – the coursework assignment that is much maligned in university today. Oxford University has been reported as going as far as to use what sounds like heuristic analysis on pupils’ essays to check for cheating, and it is possible to gain an A in some university acceptance qualifications without ever needing to attend the exam, “merely” submitting stellar coursework. Checks and balances exist in the system but there is still a suggestion that there is too much reliance on coursework.

I disagree, if I didn’t get disorganised and put it off, coursework would provide the time required for a passionate student (remembering that some of law any school can be hard, tedious and boring) to really put the effort into proving their worth. It would also eliminate the advantage of the very lucky and apparently, according to a long line of educational research, disadvantage boys. I find this bad on a personal level but selfishness is not a reason to scrap coursework. I find coursework to be more stressful than flying, but only around the deadline, apart from that there is no endless past papers in front of a clock, no dividing clock faces up into essay segments like a hurdler timing strides – that’s not learning, that’s training to get the high score.