Thursday, 11 August 2016

How should I prepare for the drafting resit exam?

I have been asked by drafting students how to prepare for the resit. These are my thoughts.

1.      Download the core law document from Moodle.

2.      Complete the legal research on the core law. Don’t forget to ensure you understand the areas of law, and don’t neglect the Remedies manual as a resource. If you have to start from basics, don’t be afraid to pick up the relevant Nutshell. Top up your understanding with research from practitioner sources. Make notes and printouts as needed.

3.      Put together a drafting file – with all of your drafting work and all of the suggested answers. Use sections or tabs to label up. Know where you will find helpful wordings and guidance. Make sure you’ve carefully read the commentaries to the suggested answers. Put your notes on the law from point 2 above in your file.

4.      If you did not do the 2nd formal feedback exercise, New Flow, please do so under timed conditions. 3.5 hours, like in the exam. Then compare your work to the suggested answer – and listen to my podcast. This should give you a lot of food for thought and tips on general student problems encountered in drafting.

5.      Read your failed feedback thoroughly, even if you read it when you first got your results. At the time you first got your results, you would have been angry. You would not have been willing to learn from the feedback and know how to improve. Read it with an open mind.

6.      Re-read chapters 7, 8 and 13 of the drafting manual. Really examine the “stages” approach to drafting in chapter 7, the method of preparing to draft in chapter 8 and the advice and discussion in chapter 13.

7.      Re-read the documents in the Revision Resources on moodle. My advice document and the revision notes are particularly of use.

8.      Go back through the LGS slides and general resources on moodle. Some of the grids may help you with efficient and logical case analysis.

9.      If you have often cut corners on case analysis, go back to the Case Preparation and Opinion Writing Manual.

10.  Write yourself short account of half a page of A4 relating to what you did during the drafting exam - how you spent your time, what tasks you did, what judgments and decisions you made. Reflect on whether you carried out adequate analysis and planning in the light of the work you have done above.

11.  Write yourself a short account of half a page of A4 setting out what you think you need to do differently. Refer to the failed feedback to do this.

The drafting process is:





Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Exam technique advice from Will Skjott

When I write for this blog, I am well aware that since I am a university lecturer my advice might be received with scepticism. I know the thought process well. Of course I would advise that students should be prepared for classes, it benefits me, right? Makes my life easier in the classroom, doesn't it? Undoubtedly, it does. But why? It's not because I have less work to do as a tutor. It is because there is less difference of understanding and frame of reference between the many students in the classroom if everyone is up to speed. It is because I can genuinely help students with what is confusing them if they have tried to read and understand the subject and tried to study it by themselves. 

It is precisely because students have an inherent scepticism of advice given by tutors that I love being able to bring you insights and advice from former students. They cannot be accused of having ulterior motives. They have been in exactly the same position as you. They have made their own minds up about what to do. And the successful ones have great strategies which can truly help.

I am very pleased to bring you this blog post from Will Skjott. He is a former personal tutee of rare quality, Will was universally praised by his tutors for being diligent, thoughtful, hard working and bright as a button. Will ably sailed through his assessments, gaining highly impressive results in all of the centrally set assessments. One day, Will kindly explained to me that he had thought about and planned his exam technique. I took the liberty of asking him to share his exam tips with you all. 

These tips are excellent. They are thoughtful and accord with accepted research on how memory works. The methodology here is directed towards good time management and giving yourself the time and space to recall things. Dividing your time is an essential technique for exam success which often gets overlooked. Equally, too many students answer questions in a panic, without having read them or understood them properly. Some of these ideas may not be your "usual" way of handling the exam situation, but ask yourself if your techniques could realistically do with improvement. I honestly think there is always something to learn.

Will, your intelligence and ability always made me proud of you. As did your modest and self-assured manner. You didn't make any fuss or draw any attention to yourself. You just got on with the business of being brilliant. That you were prepared to help my current students, people you have not even met, makes me all the more proud. Thank you for making this blog post happen - I truly appreciate your time and trouble. 

And my students will appreciate the genuine views of a real former BPTC student, rather than the recommendations of a tutor.

Over to you, Will!

Exam technique advice from Will Skjott

Firstly: for anyone who has timing problems

(I'm usually OK with this, but I thought these thoughts might help).

Before the exam work out how much time you have for each question (SAQ and the complete MCQs). When the exam is kicked off spend 2 minutes WRITING the finish times of each section you need to complete on some paper. Since you cannot now take a watch into an exam (smartwatches are possible tools for cheating), you need to keep an eye on the clock in the exam room. That way you can keep track of your progress and know when you need to force yourself to move on so you don't end up running out of time and scuppering your chances. 

Anyway, onto my exam strategy.

I don't know whether this works for everyone. I might be a bit odd but it definitely works for me. I have to point out that I am one of those people who needs to write things to learn them. I took notes in all our lectures even when I had the slides because otherwise it goes in one ear and out the other. Also when revising I write notes upon notes upon notes. Getting more and more distilled and sometimes onto coloured paper for the last notes. I take these to the exam and read and re-read right up until the time I have to go in. I know people don't recommend this, but for me it means I can shove a bit into my short term memory which can be useful later.

When I get in, I put all my stuff the way I want it. Water etc (not unlike Rafa Nadal!).

When I am allowed sometimes I will write anything I think might be useful from my short term memory that I think I might forget onto a piece of rough paper.

Once the exam starts I go straight to the SAQs in the question paper. Next to the questions I will put some notes about what the answer might be. If I don't know the answer I will put some words about what I think they might be looking for or what the question is actually about as a guide for later. Go through all the SAQs.

Then I will go to the MCQs again in the Question paper. Read the questions and circle the answers I think are correct or put question marks next to the ones I am unsure of. Try and cross out any answers I know are wrong. Quickly highlight what they are asking for (which is INCORRECT, CORRECT, RIGHT etc so I don't make THAT stupid mistake!).

Once I have done that I will go and ANSWER the SAQs. Rereading the questions etc. Then I will go through and answer the MCQs again rereading and writing on the rough paper the numbers of any that I am unsure of so I can go back to them first if I have time at the end.

I find that doing this means that I get to look at every question twice. This helps reduce stupid errors from a lack of reading and understanding. Also doing it like this gives my subconscious brain time to process answers and think while I am answering other questions. Sometimes answers come after 20 minutes of doing something else and MCQs/SAQs can sometimes trigger answers to each other.

I definitely think writing short term knowledge down at the start is worth doing on the SAQs. If you go through the exam MCQ then SAQ I think you are cheating yourself out of time and possibility of reading and rereading. Also your best tool is your little brain and it can do things while you are concentrating on something else. Give it a chance!

Anyway, these are just my thoughts and what I do. I don't know whether they will work for anyone else or whether they may, in fact, be totally against the usual study skills and wisdom. I just have a mind that likes to read things through (case papers etc) and do something else to then return and find out I have loads of answers.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Opinion writing; A walk in the woods

Opinion writing. Most of my students seem to hate it. It seems to be the "most feared" of the BPTC skills subjects. 

Opinion writing is a tricky skill. The reason for it is that it is, in reality, more than one skill. It is a combination of:
  • Legal research (identifying the relevant statutes, SIs and case law)
  • Understanding the law (reading, decoding and assimilating the principles from your research)
  • Case analysis (applying the law)
  • Procedural awareness (applying the relevant pre-action or litigation procedure)
  • Case tactics (using the law and the procedure to help your client achieve his/her objectives)
  • Writing skills (writing the opinion in an intelligible, logical, clear way which helps the client solve his/her problem)

When we set an opinion, we give you a set of papers where we already know the law, we ensured that the facts and evidence pointed to a particular answer and we knew in advance what we wanted our candidates to write.

Why have we done this? To ensure we can trust and be confident that when you are in practice, you have a logical and methodical way of approaching any case you deal with. So that you know, without guidance, how to reach the answer. Give a man a fish, it is said, and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for life. We’re teaching you how to fish, dudes!

Perhaps I can illustrate better with the analogy of being let loose in the woods.
The forest is a scary place. All the trees look the same, they block your view, it becomes disorientating and you can get lost very quickly. Walking for ages only to return to your start point is a real danger.

Imagine the task of writing an opinion as being released at the “start” point of the diagram, and being required to get to the end of the diagram, marked home. The path is strewn with trees, your obstacles to success and a pass mark.
Hansel and Gretel nearly got lost in the woods. Except they had a plan. They left themselves a trail to follow. A trail of breadcrumbs. They followed their trail to find their way home and lived happily every after.

We have left you with breadcrumbs. The crumbs are the legal principles, combined with the facts and the evidence. These are your CLUES. Once you have picked up a legal principle, we want you to apply it to the facts. Then we want you to think about who has the burden of proof, to assess the current evidence and decide if your client can succeed or whether more work is needed. If there is a conflict of evidence, we want you to assess how the court will interpret the evidence and what finding of fact will be made.

The breadcrumb trail represents the most efficient path through the woods. In other words, the best way to deal with the client's legal problem. 

When it comes to dealing with an opinion, we have students who fall into certain tribes.

They are:

  • The “Bypass” student
  • The “MIA” student
  • The “Confused” student
  • The “Smart” student

Which of these are you?

The “Bypass” student

The Bypass student can’t be bothered with writing a fully reasoned opinion. This student never fears getting sued for giving the wrong advice. Or that s/he can’t demonstrate why they reached a certain view if things go wrong later in the case. Why bother jumping through the hoops of giving reasons for their view?

Bypass student makes it through the woods. But we don’t know if they did so on their own steam, whether someone helped them get there, or whether they just checked into a hotel overnight and got to home via a black cab without ever entering the woods.

Bypass student is impulsive. Bypass student rushes to an answer without considering all the circumstances.

Bypass student is a professional negligence case waiting to happen.

The MIA student

The MIA student cannot commit to an opinion. The client “may” or “might” succeed. Or “unless I have further evidence I cannot advise”.

MIA student gets lost in the wood and never makes it home, because this student cannot form a view. This student cannot reach a conclusion on the issues. MIA student either couches the prospects of success in vague terms because s/he doesn’t want to actually tell the client if it is worth proceeding with a case, or seeks to hide behind a “lack of evidence” to avoid coming to a view at all.

MIA will find themselves cold and hungry by nightfall. Let us just hope there are no wolves in the woods, right?

The Confused student

Somehow, by hook or by crook, the Confused student makes it out of the woods. The path taken lacks any kind of logic. The expenditure of energy has been entirely inefficient. 

The Confused student may have wandered around in circles or double-backed on him/herself…

Yes, this student made it home. But did Confused student make it home using luck or judgment? We can't tell. And it may even be that Confused student can't explain how s/he made it home. 

How can you be let loose on the public if you get the right answer by luck? We have to know your skills of analysis and judgment are properly tuned.

Confused student, sorry, but you’re just not ready yet.

The Smart student

The Smart student begins with a clear understanding of the law. Everything begins with understanding the legal principles and knowing how to identify the issues in a set of papers.

The Smart student spends time reading the papers, analysing the case, planning an opinion and then writing. The Smart student understands the “legal framework” concept described in Chapter 19 of the Case Preparation and Opinion Writing Manual (“the Manual”) and applies that system as set out in Chapter 21 of the Manual.

The Smart student follows the breadcrumbs, collecting them one by one and showing how s/he has collected them in the written opinion. The opinion has the right conclusions because it uses the clues to come to those conclusions. It has cogent reasoning because it explains how the breadcrumb trail has been followed.

The Smart student can be trusted when in practice to follow a logical analysis of any case thrown at him/her. The Smart student has thought of the tactics and practicalities of procedure, proof, litigation process and how the client’s objectives might best be achieved.
No wonder it is this student who scores.

Decide which student you have been in the past.

Now; work out what you need to do to ensure you are the Smart student in the exam.

The breadcrumbs are there. They are just waiting for you to follow their trail.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Getting through the BPTC with the Pomodoro Technique: a guest post by Matthew Rees

I am delighted to bring you another guest post from a former student. Even if I do say so myself, this post is a doozy. It is the bee's knees, the dog's nadgers... You will not regret reading this one. Seriously, this is the post which might actually change your life. 

Matthew Rees was an immensely bright and talented BPTC student I taught last academic year. Always prepared, always on the ball, always looking to learn more and improve his skills. Never one to rest on his laurels, Matthew had discipline and organisational skills from the beginning. Not the type of person who I thought had room for improvement when it came to working effectively and efficiently. 

Then, one Civil litigation session, he told me that he had started to use "The Pomodoro Technique" for improving time management, concentration, efficiency and overall achievement. He said that it had transformed his revision; he was revising for more time, revising more often, working more efficiently, covering more ground and achieving greater depth and breadth of learning. 

So I am delighted that Matthew has been kind enough to share his insights with you all. Please, read what he has to say. But don't stop there. Try the technique. Either use the Pomodoro app, or better still, just use a stopwatch or kitchen timer, so that you keep your mobile or tablet device well out of reach. You'll need to train yourself over the period of about a week in how to work in this way, but it will pay off from day one. 

Go ahead, try it. CHANGE YOUR LIFE!

Getting through the BPTC with the Pomodoro Technique

I rocked up at City University to study for the BPTC as a 33-year-old (supposedly) mature student. I’m not going to bore you with a CV but trust me when I say I’d already done plenty of academic study in quite a variety of subjects. I was very confident that I knew how to study well and what worked best for me.

I quickly realised that studying for the Bar Exams, in particular those centrally set by the BSB, was going to be a different kind of challenge to any of my previous studies because of just how much there was to memorise in a relatively short time.  Shortly after I’d taken my first exam, Snigdha told my class that one of her students had recently had a lot of success studying with the Pomodoro technique, and when I heard the details, I thought it sounded interesting.

How it works

The technique basically goes like this: you set a timer for 25 minutes (1 Pomodoro). During that 25 minutes, you only study. You don’t answer the phone, or check your email, or chat, or read a text, or go to the loo, you just study. 

When your 25 minutes is up, you have 5 minutes to do whatever you like: have a wee, stare out of the window, make a cuppa, do some push ups, sing a song, whatever you want to do; however, after 5 minutes, you set your timer again and study for 25 minutes more. 

The same rules apply. Repeat the process for 4 Pomodoros and then take a proper break for at least 25 minutes.

Keeping discipline

The best thing about this technique is it keeps you honest.  Before I started defining my study into strict periods I have no idea how much time I spent concentrating and how much time I spent sat in front of a screen or a text book gaining nothing but daydreaming, checking my phone or staring out of a window. It was easy to use up an hour of my time on ‘study’, and never really make any progress. Think about the time you spend ‘studying’ and try to be honest with yourself about how much of that time you spend completely focussed on the task in hand… If you can already stay focussed for the majority of the time then great. However, if like me your mind wanders off quite a bit, then setting yourself some boundaries could really help. 

Upping your game

Another way the technique helped me was by motivating me to push myself harder. I found a Pomodoro App for my phone (there are lots of them) which kept count of how many Pomodoros I was completing each day, and recorded a running total for the month.  As the exams got closer, I would feel guilty if I dropped below my average.  I found study guilt was a great motivator, and I often managed an extra 25 or 50 minutes just because I wanted to match the last few days or beat my high score.

Getting the most out of your time

What’s also great is that when you start counting Pomodoros you begin to realise that 25 minutes here and 25 minutes there can be really productive. Before I was using the technique, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to open my books if I’d had less than 90 minutes free. What that meant was I wasted quite a lot of time during the day before after and between classes. Once I started working in 25-minute blocks, I got through more work during the working day which meant I had more opportunities to have good-quality downtime in the evenings and at weekends.

Building study stamina

I quickly realised the technique was helping me study with greater focus because I found I was getting much more tired much more quickly.  For the first couple of weeks, I would struggle to do more than 12 Pomodoros in full day of study – that’s only 5 hours of study in total with 45 minutes of short breaks and 3 bigger breaks of at least 25 minutes – which didn’t seem much when I’d always thought I could study for 10 to 12 hours a day. Nonetheless, working at a much higher degree of intensity and focus, I started to get a lot more done. As the weeks went by my study stamina improved.  By the time all the teaching was finished and we were into full-time revision, I was able to set myself, and achieve, a minimum of 20 Pomodoros a day. I could never have done that before.

Matt Rees