FROM A FORMER LAW LECTURER
To Help You Survive Law School
While you are envisioning a legal career that requires you to argue before courts, negotiate deals, or resolve disputes, studying the law may be a bit disappointing at first. Before you can do all those exciting “lawyerly” things, you actually need to learn the basics, such as memorising statute sections. As a law student, you are not only required to understand the law and analyse how it can be applied to specific situations, but also to commit to memorising law sections before your exams, especially if you want to get a first. The challenge here is not so much in understanding the law but in how to remember law sections during exams when the pressure is high. Although you can’t avoid memorising specific statute sections, there are steps you can follow to tackle this seemingly arduous task strategically and perform better in your law school exams.
Select only the most relevant sections
Statutes are divided into chapters, sections and subsections for a reason. Each statute is a coherent body of law containing a lot of provisions, not all of which will be relevant to your study topics. For that reason, you are not required to study the entire statute in order to prepare for your exams. Instead, you will only select a few of the most relevant statute sections and subsections to memorise, so that you are actually able to remember and recall them before the exam. Here’s how you should go about doing this:
Avoid memorising too many subsections
Statutes are often quite complicated, with some sections containing plenty of subsections. The main section is usually supplemented by subsections which either clarify the meaning of the main section (e.g. include a definition of a particular term) or provide a list of situations to which the main section applies or doesn’t apply. Because the subsections are the explanatory provisions, they tend to be lengthy and complex. If you don’t want to get confused, you should avoid memorising too many subsections for the purpose of your exam and only focus on the main sections.
For example, section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 contains six lengthy subsections. If you tried to memorise them all, you would be wasting not only your time but also the precious space in your brain which stores information before your exams. In this specific case, instead of trying to memorise all the subsections you should just memorise the fact that section 4 introduced something called a “declaration of incompatibility” along with an explanation of what that means.
This strategy will not work for all the law topics you will be studying, but it will work for the majority of them. So you will have to use your judgement to try to understand which of the topics require you to memorise subsections. Alternatively, if you will be struggling with identifying the right sections and subsections to revise before your exam, you can check out my 1st Class Law Revision Notes on different topics, which list only the most important statute sections, cases and definitions along with explanations.
Use memorising techniques
Memorising law sections before exams can be tedious, but you can be clever about it and have fun at the same time by trying out different memorisation techniques. Here are some proven memorisation strategies that you could try out:
Write down all sections at the start of your exam
One of the most tricky parts of law exams is time management. When you are under pressure to write two or three answers to exam questions within a short period of time, you can easily get stressed and forget all the statute sections which you worked so hard to memorise. In fact, poor time management which leads to unnecessary stress and forgetfulness is one of the most common reasons why students fail their exams or just don’t do as well as they should.
One technique which you can use to improve your time management and stop yourself from forgetting the material you learned is to write down all the statute sections in bullet points at the start of your exam for each question which you will be answering. At the beginning of the exam the information in your head is still fresh, as it has not yet been muddled by the legal problems and questions you are tackling. This means that at that stage you can easily recall the list of statute sections which you memorised. Later on, once you start trying to formulate your thoughts into sentences, this might become significantly more difficult.
Once you begin writing your answers to exam questions, you can refer back to the bullet-point list of statute sections which you created. This will help you to quickly write down each sentence without wasting time looking for the relevant law section in your head. But make sure not to spend too much time on creating the bullet point list. It should really only take you around 20-30 seconds, since your memory is still very fresh. If you end up spending 5 minutes trying to recall the statute sections at the beginning of the exam, then perhaps this technique is not right for you.
No one said that the study of the law is easy, but you can definitely improve your chances of getting a first in your exams if you keep in mind the above tips on how to remember law sections. So, memorise your law sections consistently and soon you will find that you have already built that muscle memory needed for your law exams.