I am delighted to present to you a guest post from a first time Very Competent BPTC student, Brian Mondoh. Brian was called to the Bar just last month after successfully completing the BPTC.
Brian wanted to reach out to you to share his tips and tricks for "Smashing the BPTC". His approach is excellent, because it encompasses time management, study skills and active learning. He recognised the need for using more than one technique and approach to covering the material and revising. He used different techniques depending on the subject matter and its inherent complexity or technicality.
What is most interesting is that Brian used self-testing to improve his recall. It is a proven technique, but one students are scared of using. Students often don't want to test themselves, as they are frightened of not knowing all the answers. Brian realised that the act of rehearsing the information frequently, helped it stick.
I will leave you to read his practical, achievable and superb advice. If you follow his advice, I am sure you will make it through. And you will know that you have Brian to thank. If you wish to follow Brian on Twitter, you will find him at @dvjmobi.
I would like to offer my most sincere and deep thanks to Brian for this fantastic guest blog post.
“Nuggets of Wisdom for Smashing your BPTC”
The Bar Professional Training Course (‘BPTC’) is undeniably the most difficult postgraduate course ever designed in England and Wales. It requires sound advocacy skills, memorising copious amounts of information and being expected to know loads of things before your tutors teach you. During interactions with practitioners and tutors, you will come to see that they share your concerns, but it might take several years before a more effective system of Bar assessment is designed.
BPTC students undoubtedly experience high levels of stress and anxiety, to some extent depression and often feel overwhelmed, sad, lonely and lost. Trust me, no one outside the Bar profession will ever understand this feeling (emphasis). In light of this, at some point in or about November last year, I quit trying to explain my experiences on the BPTC to my friends and relatives because no sort of explanation or illustration would get them to understand my frustrations and so trying to get them to apprehend just got me overly irritated and upset. It is, for these reasons that I am writing this article to share my techniques for ‘smashing the bar’ on a first sitting! Some precautionary comments, my advice focuses on the three Central Exam Board (‘CEB’) papers i.e. Ethics, Civil Litigation and Criminal Litigation. Please do not take my advice word for word as some techniques may vary individually.
At the time of writing, you will be some two or three months away from the Ethics assessment. For a BPTC student, that is frighteningly soon! If you are keen about goings-on on the BPTC, you ought to have conducted your research and established that the Ethics assessment in 2016/17 had serious clerical errors and consequently, it had to be re-checked. Unfortunately, the re-check had little or no effect on the unexpectedly high fail rate across all BPTC providers. The Ethics assessment is the most dynamic paper and needs a proper grasp. It is the easiest to pass if you get to grips with the syllabus but at the same time the easiest to fail if you underestimate it. My approach to the Ethics paper was based more on exam technique than knowledge. Nevertheless, you will need to know the Bar Standards Board (‘BSB’) handbook, the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the Farquharson guidelines backwards. The examiner will challenge your brain with technical points and nuances. To scoop marks you will be required to recite Core Duties (‘CDs’) verbatim, Conduct Rules (‘RCs’), Guidance to core duties (‘GCs’) and Outcomes (‘OCs’) amongst other things all in the space of two hours. In addition, the examiner will be marking you on grammar and legible handwriting, as the new syllabus consists of six Short Answer Questions (SAQs).
One may find it helpful to use multiple memory aids and learning techniques in preparation for the Ethics assessment. For instance, I had the ten CDs set as wallpapers on my phone and iPad. I made it a habit to skim through the CDs whenever I accessed my gadgets and kept reciting them in a bid to commit them to memory. Alongside this, I created storyboards in my head during my commute to and from school. For example, each bus stop on my route had a CD and relevant RCs, GCs and OCs attached to it. As a result, I could picture a bus stop and a floodgate of information would stream out. In the weeks running up to the exam, I drew mind maps and flow charts to illustrate my ‘bus commute’. I also kept discussing the revision material with my mates and as a result we ended up teaching each other. Two weeks before the exam and thanks to making friends from other providers, I was doing past papers and SGS questions from other providers under ‘exam-strict’ timed conditions. Please note principles in the Ethics assessment do not change. The ‘Cab Rank Rule’, for example, will forever be the same, the trick is in the application of your knowledge to various problem questions. In my view, if, Ethics was a three-hour exam, it would possibly be the easiest exam on the BPTC but the examiner knows that. Therefore, strictly time yourself while revising and be flexible in applying the ethical principles. In conclusion, you cannot 'question spot' the Ethics paper. It needs precision and sound judgment to enable you understand the question, weigh out the correct number of CDs, RCs, GCs and OCs etc. to apply to an SAQ without waffling and/or wasting time.
CIVIL LITIGATION AND CRIMINAL LITIGATION
These two assessments can easily be termed as the most dreaded on the BPTC. Firstly, because of the 50 examinable topics on the syllabus split between the two i.e. 22 in Civil litigation and 28 in Criminal litigation. Secondly, the volume of pinpointed reading and long inundating text of the practitioner texts. Thirdly, the nightmare of answering 75 'Single Best Answer' questions in each assessment. For starters, if you have not yet developed a working relationship with the White Book Civil Procedure (‘the Whitebook’) and Blackstones Criminal Procedure (‘Blackstones’), you had better start the relationship sooner than later. As a precaution, past students or those who pass the assessments on first sitting will 'blag' about how they made it without using the practitioner texts. My advice; do not buy into the lies. In my year, the BSB set questions word for word based on White Book and Blackstones commentary. For instance, you will not find Norwich Pharmacal Orders anywhere else other than in the White Book's commentary or thorough case explanation for Criminal legal principles if not in Blackstones. The assessments are designed to test aspiring practitioners and as a result, it is an obvious fact that the syllabus and/or indicative reading will be based on the two. You just have to eat it, live it and love it! Detailed supplements can be Stuart Sime's 'A Practical Approach to Civil Procedure' and City Law School's Criminal Litigation Manual.
I stuck by these books for the majority of the year. However, as a quick and cheeky memory fix, I used some reputable revision books to commit the voluminous information to memory. To reduce last minute drag and excessive anxiety, try to have your notes well ready before the Christmas break. Spend quality time revising the syllabuses and creating memory aids before the exam window. For Civil and Criminal litigation, I studied in different rooms everyday, I color coded my notes and recorded voice notes. I also made flow charts and discussed with my tutors and law students outside of the BPTC. I was fuelled by fear!!! Simply put, do whatever that works for you! Unlike on the LLB or GDL, you cannot cover the Bar syllabus two weeks prior to exams! Please note; Civil Procedure Rules (‘CPR’) tie in with your Opinion Writing (‘OPW’), Drafting, Resolution of Disputes Out of Court (‘RDOC’) and Civil Advocacy. Maximise your class prep and do your own work!!! Criminal Procedure Rules (‘CrimPR’) especially on dreaded topics like 'Bad Character evidence and Hearsay evidence' tie in with your Conference and Criminal Advocacy. Do your level best to get the fuller picture of procedure earlier on in the course. Similar to Ethics, do as many past papers and SGS questions as you can. Do not ‘question spot’ as all topics are interlinked. In conclusion, be on the lookout for BPTC syllabus updates. In my year, we had a December 2016 and February 2017 update and the Civil Appeal's regime was also updated in or about October 2016.
Few BPTC students will need this reminder. The BPTC is pressure filled and one lazy day is likely to spill over and affect at least two weeks of your workload. As an aspiring Barrister, you have to keep your eye on the ball and work far into the night to get the job done. I would say to every BPTC student, get the ‘Pomodoro/Apple timer’. It literally changed my life!!! I got this advice from a Barrister and law tutor that I follow on twitter and it was the best gift ever. The Pomodoro timer keeps you focused by completely shutting out distractions and breaking study time into short and productive intervals of 25 minutes with five minute breaks and a long 25 minute break after one hour of study. It enables you to do more and maximize on dead time and/or constrained time frames. I started off in February 2017 at 16 Pomodoro's a day, that's an equivalent of eight study hours a day. When starting off it’s a bit of a strain but you quickly get the hang of it. Come March 2017, I was doing 20 Pomodoro's a day i.e.10 study hours a day, seven days a week!!! I cannot fully express the benefits of the Pomodoro as I am still using it in my post BPTC work.
It is hardly necessary to emphasise the importance of teamwork and camaraderie on the BPTC. Your previous qualification, be it LLM, LLB or GDL and your previous university has little or no bearing on your BPTC performance. It takes nothing away from you to have humility and to be nice to others in your cohort. Also, it may be easier said than done, always be positive, look after your health and avoid burn out!!! Finally, the BPTC is not all gloom and doom. Not only will you gain an invaluable set of skills, you will become an individual with a switched on mindset and exceptional professional conduct.
Brian Sanya Mondoh
Grade: Very Competent
Called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn, 2017