Accessibility should be your guiding principle whenever you’re making exam notes. Thankfully when it comes to Dispute Resolution, the chronology of a dispute also conveniently doubles as a potential top-level structure for your hypothetical notes. Instead of an old fashioned table of contents ripped straight out of your Reading Guide, consider dividing your notes into each step of the dispute resolution process. Within each step you can pull together all the relevant issues and considerations for that step, in addition to extracted legislation, rules, and case notes.
A table like this one could become the cover page of DR exam notes. Filled out, it will allow you to see at a glance what you could include in a hypothetical answer involving that step. Just make sure you add page numbers or even pinpoint references so you can quickly navigate to what you’re looking for during the exam.
While your case notes for DR won’t be that dissimilar to those you make for your Obligations exam notes, you should take a different approach when it comes to legislation and the Supreme Court Rules (Rules), etc. Printing out an entire Act or the Rules without at least annotating them will mean lots of wasted time on the exam as you desperately try to find the relevant rule (and then have to re-read it all to find the relevant sub-section, too).
Instead you could make a table like the one below, in which all the examinable provisions and rules from your DR Reading Guide are extracted. It could either be a handy chart for that entire piece of legislation, or you could make multiple mini-tables of the sections relevant to just that step of the dispute resolution process.
Sometimes the title or heading of a section will be enough to tell you everything about it, but other times it will save you time and energy to have a simple English or lay description of a section’s contents and/or important sub-sections. While it’s not a mistake to include a rule in your notes verbatim, remember that your teacher won’t be expecting you to copy out the rules word-for-word anyway. Paraphrasing a rule now can save you a lot of time during the exam–just make sure you’re correctly capturing the essence of the rule when you paraphrase it!
Writing an Exam Essay
Thankfully, your teacher isn’t expecting you to write a world class academic essay on a first year hand written exam. The stringent time limit often means that students won’t have time to even proofread what they’ve written. But that doesn’t mean you should just word-vomit everything you know about restorative justice in one giant paragraph and then expect to do well. Remember:
- You need a contention. Even if the essay prompt isn’t phrased in a way that begs you to take a stand on an issue, that’s exactly what your teacher wants. Make strong, persuasive arguments. And while it’s not impossible to write a good response that considers both sides of an issue in depth, such responses tend to result in overly neutral contentions and too much description at the expense of analysis.
- Don’t use IRAC. It’s easy to spend two hours writing responses to hypothetical problems using an IRAC structure and then start automatically using it for the essay component, too. But in order to properly state your contention at the beginning of the essay and to signpost the arguments you intend to make, you’ll need to be writing conclusive statements–the final step in an IRAC structure–virtually from the beginning of your essay.
- But still structure your essay! Your teacher will be expecting an introduction that states your contention and signposts your forthcoming sub-arguments. Aim for two to three body paragraphs that make a discrete point and use course materials (articles, cases, rules, etc) for evidence and examples. If you have time, round off your essay with a few concluding sentences. Don’t forget, too, that you can use sub-headings to help guide your reader.
Making Notes for the Exam Essay
As with any subject, there are a finite number of essay themes and topics that are examinable in Dispute Resolution. As a consequence, many students will feel tempted to include essays they’ve pre-written as part of their exam notes. While it may feel as though you’re gaining a certain amount of control by preparing a response and copying it out during the exam, this strategy is misguided for several reasons:
- Your teachers expect it. Instead, to force students to actively engage with the essay prompt during the exam, they will often put an unexpected spin on an expected topic. For example, imagine that the exam prompt is about online dispute resolution on websites like eBay or Airbnb, and a student copies out their pre-written essay on dispute resolution without making any reference to online mediation or these websites. It will be patently clear to the marker that this student is simply regurgitating pre-written material. Always remember that you could fill an entire script book with somewhat relevant material copied directly from your exam notes and not receive more than a few (if any) marks for it.
- Study smart. If you have time to pre-write essays, then you also have time to make exam essay notes that you’ll be able to adapt to just about any prompt that appears on your DR exam. Consider devoting a page or half a page of your essay notes to each article you’ve studied during DR. Extract the useful parts of the article to make charts, dot points and tables.
You won’t have time to re-read articles or chunks of text during reading time when you’re planning your essay. Instead, notes like these present useful arguments and issues from the articles you’ve read in a succinct, highly extractable format. Just remember to cite the author(s) as authority for every borrowed idea.
Best of luck with your DR exam!
More from the FSG Site
- Preparing for the Obligations Exam
- A Guide to Practice Problems
- Avoiding Procrastination
- Managing Law Exams
- Surviving your First SWOTVAC at MLS
- Managing Law School Stress (Law Lifeline)
- How to Survive Your First Law Exam (SurviveLaw)
- Sleeping Like a Law Student (SurviveLaw)