Preparing for the Obligations Exam

Exam Notes:  How they Help 

Your Obs mid-semester assignment highlighted the fact that there is no such thing as “H1 Notes” (believe us, no one is reading and grading notes!).  In practice, working with someone else’s notes can get you into serious trouble during an exam –  trying to find the information you need in an unfamiliar packet of notes is time consuming and stressful. Definitions are missing, rule statements aren’t where you expect them to be, and there are loads of facts from cases that weren’t even in this year’s prescribed readings. You’d fast realise you might as well have brought your subject materials binder into the exam for all the help someone else’s notes will give you.

In light of this – and other – pitfalls first year students sometimes fall into here are some of the LASC’s tips on preparing for your Obligations exam.

  1. Write your own set of notes:

Making your own notes means you’ll be equipped with an exam-answering tool that’s customised to the way your mind works. Not only does making your own notes allow you to revise the course from beginning to end, it also helps your brain make connections between seemingly discrete concepts, and to restructure the subject materials in a way that most makes sense to you.

  • Length. Just how long should your exam notes be? A good rule of thumb is no more than half the length of your seminar notes. The more succinct they are, though, the better. Remember that you won’t have time to actually re-read case summaries or explanations of concepts during the exam, so design your notes to jog your memory at a glance.
  • Sources. While your class notes, subject materials and casebook should be the main sources you draw upon for your exam notes, your teacher’s slides can also be handy for topic overviews and potential answer structures. Don’t forget to check out the other Obligations teachers’ slides on the LMS, too. Principles of Contract Law is also a fantastic complement to your casebook.
  • Structure. How you present information and ideas in your exam notes is entirely up to you, and you shouldn’t hesitate to experiment! That said, many students over the years have employed a “checklist” style for their Obligations notes. Read up about that and other possible note structures in this FSG post.
  • And always start with your reading guide. Use it to make a list of every major topic and issue/sub-issue you’ve studied in the course. Once you’ve got this list (and potentially re-ordered it), you’ll have a top-level note structure that you can add to and flesh out with, for example, concise rule statements.

2. Ensure your materials are accessible and usable. 

Having the most detailed exam notes in the world won’t do you much good unless you can quickly find what you’re looking for. Consider adding a table of contents, symbols, or formatting (tabbing, bolding, italicising), dividing with plastic tabs, or separating your notes into multiple booklets.

3. Test Your Notes

Unless you try using your notes in an exam situation you won’t know whether they’re as accessible and detailed (or bare) as you need them to be. If you’re concerned about not having enough time to give your notes a run through before the exam, find a hypothetical question from a previous exam that only or mostly tests your knowledge of one topic (e.g. estoppel, restitution etc). Make your notes for that topic, then test them (and the formatting style you’ve chosen) by using them to write an answer under exam-like conditions.

4. Plan Your Time During the Exam

Maybe you’re used to flying by the seat of your pants during exams, but now’s the time to let your inner control freak out. Your teacher should soon give you the Obs exam’s cover sheet with the mark breakdown (and if they haven’t by Week 12, ask for it). Once you know how many marks each question is worth, you should calculate exactly how long you should spend answering it during the exam. If the “big hypothetical” on your Obs exam is, for example, worth 80% of the exam’s marks, then you should spend no more or no less than 80% of your total writing time on it.

For example (remember to check the 2017 Obs cover sheet when it is circulated):

It is a good idea to calculate exactly when to stop writing for each question so you won’t have to waste time doing maths during the exam. Put a similar guide on the front of your exam notes or somewhere else highly visible.

And stick to it. Make a pact with yourself now: I will not spend longer on a question than what it’s worth. Remember that you won’t do well on the exam as a whole if you max out your points for one question and don’t even pick the low-hanging fruit from the other one.

Second hypothetical or an essay?

Maybe you’ve already decided what you’ll be doing for Question 2 of this exam based on your established strengths and/or preferences. But our advice is to never cut yourself off from all the options available to you. After all, you don’t know for certain which choice of question you’ll find easier to answer until you’re reading it in the exam. Note too that there really aren’t that many scholarly articles in your Obligations reading guide–just having a look through those again will give you an excellent idea of potential essay topics.

That said, even if you know you probably won’t write an essay and/or you run out of time to make dedicated notes for an Obligations essay, don’t neglect to bring the annotated articles from your subject materials into the exam with you, just in case.

Best of luck with your exam!


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