How to Impress Examiners
The semester examination has just ended at my university. Working late till the wee hours of many mornings, I completed the evaluation of several thick bundles of examination scripts. As always, a fair number of answers were illegible, incomprehensible and terribly disorganised.
FOR all of us in the teaching profession, the periodic ordeal of marking examination scripts arouses suicidal as well as homicidal instincts!
Many students fail to exhibit basic knowledge of the subject and, understandably, fail the examination. Others have undoubted ability but not the technique or methodology of writing effective answers. It is to the latter group of law students that I wish to address today’s column.
Let me begin by saying that law is “reasoned argument”. To perform satisfactorily in the field, some special skills and techniques need to be cultivated.
Language: A law student should understand that oral and written communication skills are absolutely indispensable for the effective practice of the law. Law students should seek constantly to improve their command of the language by reading newspapers, law books and law journals.
Original sources: A good law student buys her own textbooks and statutes and does not rely entirely on class handouts. She constantly supplements class handouts with self-study from textbooks and adds to the “bank account” of knowledge opened by the lecturer for the students.
Art of reading: Reading is an art. Unless we have a smart strategy, it is entirely possible to get lost in the undergrowth. In reading a book or article, the student must avoid beginning at the beginning and plodding to the end. She must first look at the headings and sub-headings to get a broad feel or outline of what the chapter contains.
She must proceed from the general to the particular; from the woods to the trees. If an easy book or handout is available, she must read that first to get a background.
Self-study: Her study techniques must have three aims. First, to understand the basic principles of the law. Second, to recall basic ideas. To achieve this she must summarise the main principles or ideas in simple diagrams, charts, “magic words” or acronyms. These “scaffoldings” or outlines must be committed to memory. A third aim must be to evaluate existing materials and to highlight the flaws in the laws.
Attending tutorials: Successful students go prepared to class bubbling with queries. During the class or tutorial, they don’t just hear, they listen. They jot down prolific notes. They ask questions orally or by e-mail or in other written form. They participate.
Study groups: Successful law students form informal groups for study and revision. They try to be in a group of hard workers and independent thinkers. They encourage differences rather than conformity. They expose their understanding to scrutiny by others.
Summarising notes: Organising, systematising and summarising knowledge is the best way to master it. In preparation for the examination, a good student summarises each topic on one A4 page or on index cards or uses flow charts or diagrams to organise the vast amount of material collected.
by Shad Saleem Faruqi.