When I first decided to take up VCE Legal Studies, I thought it would be a subject I would be able to breeze through easily – boy was I wrong. In year 12, Legal became unexpectedly challenging as it took much more work to perform well than I had anticipated. So how can you be successful in Legal?
When it comes to Legal Studies, it is 100% more about the questions and how to answer them than just the content. Don’t get me wrong; learn, remember and understand the content! However, if you do all of that but don’t directly answer the question given in the SACs/exam, it’s meaningless information. That was a hard truth I had to learn. I cannot begin to tell you how many practice questions, SACs and exams I did for Legal last year. Knowing the content is one thing, being able to apply it to the question is on another field of existence.
All questions will start with a task word which will dictate the way you answer. While some task words are straightforward, others are bit more difficult and tend to overlap with each other which may result in you mixing them up.
Eg. Discuss & Evaluate
They seem to be asking the same thing (I thought so too) but in reality, they require very different answers.
DISCUSS question: look at both sides as the point of the answer is to ‘discuss’ the topic being hinted at in the question.
EVALUATE question: focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the hinted topic and come to an overall judgment after conducting your ‘evaluation’.
You may understand what the question is asking but if you don’t provide enough information to fulfil the marks to be awarded, you could end up with a 3/6 instead of a 5 or 6/6.
Get in the head of your teacher/the examiner and try to predict where they will give you the marks. A good way to get an understanding of this is to look at past marking guides, exam reports and feedback from your teacher on practice questions. Soon enough, you’ll have a set plan for how to answer different types of questions depending on the marking allocation.
When it comes to COMPARE questions, you are looking at the similarities and differences. The number of similarities and differences you cover in your answer will then be dictated by the mark allocation.
i.e Compare exclusive and concurrent powers (4 marks)
Since you have 4 marks, you cover 2 similarities and differences; 4 points in total. You can choose to group the similarities and differences together or alternate. The aim is to be able to look at your answer and be able to see the marks.
A good shortcut to doing practice questions is to just plan out the mark allocation than writing out full answers all the time. Especially during exam prep, it’s more important to expose yourself to a variety of questions. So for the above question, I would/could plan my answer like this:
DON’T IGNORE IT! Mark allocation helps you to determine the depth or the length of your response. It can play a major role in choosing which questions to do first during reading time so you can finish in time. Once writing time starts: highlight, underline, circle the mark allocation so you are constantly aware of it!
By the end of the year, you will have committed sections of the constitution, multiple case studies, Acts to memory and for good reason – having an example to insert into your answer always guarantees marks (unless it’s irrelevant or unnecessary). Especially in ‘To what extent do you agree’, evaluate and discuss questions which award 8-10 marks, having highly relevant, detailed examples can aid you in getting more marks.
One mistake I made was that I tried to remember too much as I thought almost every case and legislation was important. Try to remember 1-2 examples per topic in case a question is focused on a particular topic so you have a bit more variety than referring to the same case throughout your answer. While being able to quote legislation word by word is handy and heightens the likelihood of earning marks, don’t panic if you can’t remember it fully during the SAC/exam. Just write down what you can remember – often just quoting the section and then explaining it in your own words is enough.
A good way to commit legislation, cases etc. to memory is to do open book practice questions where you have your notes to refer to. Once you’re confident, you can then do practice questions closed book and see how much you can remember. By the time of the exam, you would have done so many practice questions that what would’ve seemed like a lot to memorise will come to you easily since you’ve mentioned the same examples in your answers multiple times.
For the SACs, make sure to pay attention to the cases that your teacher places emphasis on – there’s a reason why they keep referring to it. Maybe create a document to compile everything so you don’t have to look through your notes. In preparation for the exam, I did these ‘one sentence summaries’ where I would try to summarise a case in 1-2 sentences as you need to be concise, quick and effectively use the space given to answer the question.
You may have been told to pre-read before a new topic is discussed in class. I only really understood the necessity and benefits of this in year 12. You don’t spend $50+ on a textbook to leave it on your desk to collect dust and never open. Your teacher may provide you with notes and slides but you shouldn’t just rely on this.
Especially with a complex subject as Legal Studies, it’s very beneficial to read your textbook to get a basic idea before the topic gets rushed through class before you have any chance to properly understand it. Pre-reading allows you to get more out of class time. You will already have notes so instead of frantically writing stuff down, you can just add any extra information. Second exposure to the information may clear doubts you had during your first exposure or open new doubts that you can ask your teacher about directly. Pre-reading also reduces passive learning and gives more time to active learning; practice questions.
Everything I have just discussed are some tips for Legal success (emphasis on the some). There are of course a million other things you can do and just because something worked for me doesn’t mean it will work for you. I just hope these tips can give you some direction rather than being lost for the first semester like I was.
Subahaa Maheswaran, Year 12 2019