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(p. 1) 1. Exam Skills for Success in Tort Law 

(p. 1) 1. Exam Skills for Success in Tort Law
(p. 1) 1. Exam Skills for Success in Tort Law

Dr Karen Dyer

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date: 16 April 2021

Students frequently ask, ‘how do I achieve a good grade for my law exam?’ It comes as a surprise to students to discover that lecturers are delighted to award high marks to them for their exam papers; but it should come as no surprise that the basis for a good grade in tort law is a detailed understanding of the law of tort. As a significant portion of tort is common law, you will need to read several key judgments during your studies, if you wish to do well.

The second stage is to develop a systematic approach to using your knowledge of law to answer examination questions. High marks are awarded to answers which exhibit legal precision, systematic structuring, clear communication, and enjoyment in answering the question set. These are not skills that many of us can acquire overnight.

Preparation for Success

1. Attendance

  • Attend all your lectures and seminars/tutorials. If you are a full-time student, you should study—for approximately 35 hours per week. If you are a part-time or distance-learning student, your time management will be even more crucial to success.

  • Fully prepare for the seminars in advance. You will gain much more from them if you have had a go at answering your questions before you attend. Additionally, be prepared to speak up when given an opportunity. There is nothing more depressing for a tutor than to be faced by twenty people who prefer to stay quiet for the whole session. It does not matter if you make a mistake; that is what seminars are for. You will find out where you went wrong and not make the same mistake again.

  • Do attend a revision lecture if one is given. Many students fail to realize that their lecturers are usually the ones who set the examination questions.

  • Examiners like to examine on new areas of law, so if there have been any Supreme Court decisions or the coming into force of statutes which affect tort law, do not be surprised if your examiner sets you a question, or part of a question, on this. You will not find this information in text books, no matter how recently your book as has been published. If your text book has a link to a website update, make sure that you visit the page.

(p. 2) 2. Practice

  • If you are given an opportunity to submit a formative assignment for feedback, take up this offer. This is the only way that you will get detailed feedback on how to improve your answers to achieve the mark you want.

  • Use previous exam papers to prepare you for the big day. Work out how many minutes you have to answer each question, and then have a go at answering one under timed conditions, with or without your books. The time passes very quickly. The skill is to produce, in the time allowed, an answer that is well written, accurate, and as comprehensive as possible. Ask your tutor for feedback.

  • Nowadays, students type rather than taking notes by hand. Examiners can only mark what they can read. Make sure that you practise sufficiently so that your writing is legible, but also that you can write fast enough to include all the law that will get your high mark. If you have large handwriting, your examiner will prefer if you leave a line between each line that you write on.

3. Revision

  • Start revising early. Tort law exams require you to discuss case law, and lots of it! It will help you considerably if you start learning the names of the parties and the significance of these cases as soon as you have been introduced to them in the lectures. If you forget a name of a case in the exam, you can write out the key facts, but it is much quicker to write Donoghue v Stevenson than to write ‘the case where the lady fell ill because she had a snail in her opaque glass bottle’. (Besides if you forget that case name your examiner will not be impressed!)

  • At this point double check the number of questions on the exam paper, and the number you have to answer. Has there been a change to your exam structure? Are there are any compulsory questions or sections?

  • Make sure that you know the date, time, and venue of the exam.

  • One of the main reasons for students not achieving a high grade is because they have not answered enough questions. Sometimes this is because they have run out of time, but often this is due to ‘revision gamble.’ In other words they choose to revise the same number of topics as the number of questions they have to answer. These students are risking ‘exam panic’ when they realize that they cannot identify their chosen areas, either because the examiner has omitted a topic from the exam or because the candidate does not recognize the format that the topic has been set in.

  • You should be prepared to answer any topic as both a problem and essay question and cover enough topics to give you the chance to be able to answer the right number of questions convincingly. For example, it is virtually certain that at least one question (and usually more than one) on the tort of negligence will appear on your exam paper; but there are many aspects to the study of negligence—have you mastered them all?

  • In tort law, there are some topics that you should revise even if you do not wish to answer a whole question on them; namely defences and remedies. These are topics that can form stand-alone questions, or they might be examined as part of a question on, for example, private nuisance or negligence. You cannot properly advise your client unless you can offer them a remedy.

(p. 3) 4. The Examination

  • Arrive in plenty of time, bringing your statute book and your pens. It is surprising how many students ask invigilators for a pen. It is even more surprising how many students request a ‘trip to the bathroom’ during the exam. If you are after a high grade, you do not have time to leave your desk.

  • Do not have any unauthorized material with you, eg typed notes, mobile phones, or smart watches. This can lead to disciplinary procedures. Statute books should be unannotated, that is, no writing in them. You might be able to highlight them, but check this before you mark up your book. If in doubt, ask your tutor.

  • Sit in your allocated seat and try to remain calm. You will probably be nervous, but think positively. Consider the exam as your opportunity to show how much you have learnt and understood. If you enjoy answering the questions, your examiner will enjoy reading them.

  • When you are allowed to, read through the questions and identify the ones that you think you will answer best. Then read these questions again carefully. You score highly if you answer the specific question set, rather than just generally discussing the topic. This is particularly the case for essay-style questions.

  • For problem questions, firstly identify who you have been asked to advise. This is normally found either at the start or the end of the question. If you are advising ‘X’, make sure that you tailor your advice to X’s point of view. This does not mean giving a one-sided opinion; but your conclusion should be giving advice as required—the pros and cons of the situation. You will score highly if you identify all the issues in the scenario, and have advised on these issues comprehensively. As with all books in this series, the IRAC method of problem-solving technique has been adopted. IRAC stands for identify the issues, explain the rule, apply the law to the facts, and reach a conclusion, and will be demonstrated throughout this book.

  • For essay questions, look closely at what has been set. You may be given a long quote at the beginning of the question, which is followed by a specific instruction afterwards. It might be as brief as ‘discuss’ but it usually seeks your opinion as to whether the statement reflects the law correctly. A common mistake in answering essay questions is to do so in the style of a ‘history lesson’, or by just stating everything you know about a topic in no particular order. Essay questions are often considered more difficult than problem questions, because you require in-depth research into the relevant cases, academic literature, and contentious areas where reform may be required. The PEA model—point, evidence, analysis—has been adopted by this book.

  • Other issues to consider during the exam:

    • start each answer on a new page;

    • write the correct question number in the space provided;

    • please do not write in the margins—that is for your examiner;

    • use headings for problem questions;

    • highlight or underline cases and statutes;

    • write the date of the statute in your answer, but not big chunks of statute law (just a key word and then the section, subsection, etc.)

  • Make sure that you answer the correct number of questions. If you are asked to answer FOUR questions, and you only answer THREE, your chances of success will be slim. If you are running (p. 4) out of time, stop the question you are doing and start your last question, even if you can’t complete it. Write in bullet points to put your knowledge of relevant law on the paper.

  • Afterwards, do not torture yourself by discussing the exam with your colleagues. They will not have the same answers as you. This is law. Unless you go to court you will not know for certain which side is going to win.

  • Most of all, enjoy the day! You have worked hard for several months; now prove to everyone, and most of all to yourself, that you have made the most of that time.

Online Resources

Go online for extra essay and problem questions, a glossary of key terms, online versions of all the answer plans and audio commentary on how selected ones were put together, and a range of podcasts which include advice on exam and coursework technique and advice for other assessment methods.