Often the difference between higher- and lower-achieving law students isn’t simply a matter of how much students work, but also how students work. There are many students with average grades who work just as hard – or even harder – than their peers who are achieving top marks. The difference is in their approach.
There are a handful of studies analysing how the ways in which “experts” read cases. These studies analysed how judges, practicing lawyers, and top law students approach case reading by asking them to verbalise their thinking as they read cases. These studies have identified a number of strategies that improve students’ understanding and analysis of cases. These strategies have been detailed by Lundeberg, Oates, and Christensen. Continue reading
As you progress through your degree, it is important that you continue to develop your reading skills. Fajans and Falk identify three stages of advanced reading:
- Reading for the explicit meaning of the text
- Reading for ‘unselfconscious response and self-aware reflection’
- Synthesising apparently contradictory ideas of concepts that arise during the reading
Fajans and Falk argue that most students never advance beyond the first stage. This limits their understanding of texts to merely being able to identify the key elements – issues, reasoning, decision. Improving your reading will not only improve your understanding of the law, but also enable you to write stronger essays and exams.
Because of the rule of precedent, it is easy to forget that judicial decisions are simply a genre of persuasive writing, and can be analysed in much the same way as any other text. The following guide will provide a few methods for analysing both judicial decisions and articles. Continue reading
Many students simply use the subject reading guide to keep track of their readings for the semester. While this is a simple and effective way of managing readings, it is also easy to lose track of what readings you need to catch up on – especially when lectures start to fall behind schedule. Therefore, you may wish to use your computer to keep an eye on which readings you have read, taken detailed notes on, and incorporated into your exam notes. Preparation for this can begin before the start of semester.
This has three advantages: Continue reading
Textbooks can be a great way to get your head around a complex area of law, or clarify a point of confusion. There are countless textbooks available for any given area of law. While the assigned textbooks are the only books that are assessed, alternative textbooks that may help to enhance your understanding of specific cases or topics are often available. A list of textbooks that some of the facilitators have found useful has been added to the Useful Links page.
Bear in mind that your professors may disagree with the conclusions in some of these books. Remember that only the assigned readings are examinable. Do not cite these textbooks in an exam – it will not get you any extra marks. Continue reading
If you are under time pressure, or just want an overview of the case, speed reading can be a great way to approach the first read-through of a case. Bear in mind, however, that speed reading will significantly reduce your reading comprehension. If you choose to speed read a case or article, always make sure that you read it again later. Continue reading
One of the most frequent questions that we get from first year students is “Do I have to read all the cases?” The next most frequent question is usually “Do I really have to read all the cases?” The answer, of course, is “yes” and “yes”. Aside from the fact that the only way you can truly understand a subject is by doing all of the readings, there are several good reasons to read cases. Continue reading
Cases should not be approached in the same way that you would read a book. There are two stages to reading a case – pre-reading and reading. Often you won’t really understand a case until you start writing notes on it, so you may consider note-taking to be another component of the reading process.
The first steps of reading a case require you to get a feel for the judgments. Continue reading