Alternative Law Journal
by Richard Krever; Butterworths 2001, 5th edn; 273 pp; $39 softcover.
Any law student will tell you how daunting those first few months of law school can be. It often feels as though everyone but you knows exactly what the lecturers are talking about and exactly what is expected of you.
Richard Krever's guide to studying law and tackling law exams takes the guesswork out of succeeding at law school by providing tips on developing effective study techniques and mastering the skills necessary for managing exams. As Krever points out, in the introduction to Mastering Law Studies and Law Exam Techniques, it is much better to start with these skills than to finish with them.
The format of the book is particularly helpful in terms of assisting students to develop good study skills and successfully prepare for law school exams. The first half of the book com prises an introduction to the study of law and the role of examinations, hints for studying and some basic rules. These latter guidelines are then put into context in the second half of the book which consists of sample exam questions and answers. The opening chapters of the book provide a good, clear introduction to the theoretical basis of legal process and the foundations of legal arguments. Chapter 3 clarifies the application of caselaw to build legal arguments and provides a practical explanation of how to read cases, prepare case summaries and put those summaries to use in exams. Chapter 4 offers some helpful hints on making review notes for exams and how to use them effectively to save time and effort and to maximise marks.
Chapter 5 is particularly useful in providing a number of basic rules which essentially comprise a checklist of what lecturers expect from students. It is chapter 5, however, which provokes my main criticism of the book. Krever directs the application of rules such as 'Prepare an answer outline' and 'Do not ignore spelling and grammar' only to exams, whereas these points could pertinently apply to all forms of law school assessment. While success in exams often correlates with success at law school, as Krever admits in the book's introduction, there are other important skills that are also necessary for succeeding at law school. This is of particular significance as it is apparent that more and more law schools today are moving away from 100% exam assessment towards mixed assessment aimed at developing and refining relevant work skills such as written and oral communication. A book that purports to be a guide to 'mastering law studies' as well as exam technique should provide substantial assistance in these areas. More emphasis on these skills would also contribute to preparation for exam assessment, as clarity of expression, grammar and punctuation are often the first casualties in the pressure of the exam room. The book touches briefly on the importance of these skills but provides little guidance in the way of illustrating them. The ability to write succinctly and with clarity is an extremely important skill that students should carry through to their exam writing technique. Fundamental language skills are vital to achieving success in all methods of law school assessment (and in future legal careers) and the significance of this point could have been stressed more in the book.
This is the fifth edition of Mastering Law Studies and Law Exam Techniques and is a clear indication of the book's continuing commercial success. The main changes to this new edition, from previous editions, are found in chapter 9 which contains updated sample exam questions and answers that reflect recent developments in caselaw and changes to legislation. Chapter 9 is per haps the most significant chapter in this book and sets it apart from the array of other guides available to students on studying law. lt has been compiled with the assistance of contributors (lecturers from a number of Australian law schools) who have provided examples from wide-ranging areas of law including contract law, administrative law, trusts, torts, property and criminal law. The sample questions are based on actual exam problems and the answers are derived from student responses. The chapter contains examples of average answers and above average answers with accompanying comments from leading lecturers in the field. This format allows students to see what is expected from them, what is required to lift their performance from average to above aver age and what are the pitfalls to avoid.
Mastering Law Studies and Law Exam Techniques is practical, immensely useful and highly readable. Although the book is predominantly aimed at first year law students the topics covered, such as effective note taking, exam preparation and exam technique, might also benefit second and third year students. This book would make an excellent addition to the bookshelves of all law students.
Alana McCarthy is studying law at Murdoch University.