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Surviving the BPTC – Centrally Set Exams

Surviving the BPTC – Centrally Set Exams

If your BPTC cohort is anything like mine was, there are two exams which seem to absolutely terrify everyone and cast a black shadow over the whole year of studying – Criminal and Civil Litigation.

…it is absolutely crucial to get organised in order to avoid running out of time for either the exams or for your pupillage applications.

These are two of the three centrally set exams (the other being Ethics), and usually fall on two consecutive days in April. If you are already justifiably fretting about the fact that the two biggest exams are back to back, just be thankful that you were not studying the BPTC in 2010–11, when the two exams also fell one day away from the closing deadline for Pupillage Portal (as it was then known). The 2011–12 timetable was slightly less shocking, as we had around two weeks after these two exams to focus purely on pupillage applications, but regardless, it is absolutely crucial to get organised in order to avoid running out of time for either the exams or for your pupillage applications.

If I could go back in time,  I really wish I had started my revision earlier, or alternatively kept better notes throughout the year that didn’t need so much work in the run up to the exam. Everyone probably says it, but these really (really!) are not exams that can be crammed for at the last minute.

The first step, and an incredibly important one, is to get your hands on  a copy of the ‘Blue Book’. This is the online syllabus for the Bar Course, and hopefully something that your tutors will have mentioned throughout the year. It  is absolutely crucial for these two exams (and also very enlightening for the other exams as well).

…you are expected to do most of the work yourself outside of classes, so relying simply on the few things discussed in seminars and lectures would be a huge mistake here.

The syllabus is an absolute godsend when it comes to working out what on earth you need to know for these two exams. There will probably be things you have studied that you really don’t need to know for the exam, and things you didn’t study in much detail which really do require more in-depth knowledge. The BPTC uses quite a skeletal and self-sufficient approach to learning – you are expected to do most of the work yourself outside of classes, so relying simply on the few things discussed in seminars and lectures would be a huge mistake here.

The first thing I did was to essentially copy the syallabus into a big table in Word. This was a brilliant tip that several people suggested in my cohort, and to whom I am forever grateful. Down the left-hand side of the table I had a large box for each sub-topic (e.g. limitation, remedies, interim injunctions, etc). Within each sub-topic box, I then copied the list of specific detail that was required (as listed in the syllabus) into a list of bullet points. Once I had done this for each topic, I had two mega tables with absolutely everything that I needed to know broken down into bitesize areas. A little daunting, but also incredibly helpful.

I then added a column for each research source I wanted to look at and consolidate – for example I had columns for Lecture Notes, Self Study Notes, Seminar Notes, Blackstones/CPR, Useful Textbooks. I then had a final column titled ‘consolidated’ for when I felt I had looked at all the relevant sources and condensed the notes into one useful document.

I really can’t emphasise enough how much this approach helped me, although I realise it wouldn’t be suited to everyone. It enabled me to structure my revision and to ensure that I was happy that I had looked at all of the relevant sources. Having separate boxes for each sub-topic was also helpful as it felt like I was setting myself mini milestones (e.g. today I want to work on boxes X, Y and Z), and was breaking my revision down into achievable chunks. This is much less daunting than looking at the table as a whole and wondering how on earth you are going to learn it all before April.

It is also worth pointing out that there will (hopefully) be a couple of boxes on your tables that you already feel reasonably comfortable with. When I spotted one of these, I tended to mark them out as one to leave for the end of my revision. My logic was that I should get to grips with the ones I felt least comfortable with first, so that I had a reasonable familiarity with all the topics and didn’t having any gaping holes in my knowledge. If you are ever having a day where you are really struggling, going to a semi-familiar topic is a good confidence booster and a quick way to tick one box off the list, otherwise I tended to leave them until the latter stages of my revision.

If you are ever having a day where you are really struggling, going to a semi-familiar topic is a good confidence booster…

The aim of doing all of this is to get a consolidated set of notes for each area. Looking through your first source for each area is likely to be the most time consuming. After this, as you use each additional source, it is likely you will only be adding small details to your existing set of notes. As you go through, you should also be trying to consolidate your notes further, e.g. simplifying your notes, and taking out anything that you are already remembering.

My final task in relation to the tables was to transfer the very condensed sets of notes onto colourful mindmaps which I used for the final stages of revision. I mentioned mindmaps in a previous post about general revision tips, but I will also mention them here as these were the exams I really used them for. I am quite a visual learner, so found it incredibly helpful to have a mindmap for each sub-topic. I would use a different colour for each one, and then have numbered spokes going round the page with the very skeletal basics of my revision notes to act as memory joggers. In the exam, I found I was often able to remember the colour used for the mindmap and the basic layout of it, and hopefully the finer details (or at the very least, the number of parts to a test that I was trying to remember).

I would advise doing mock papers throughout your revision – not just at the very end…

Finally, it is important to sit every mock exam you can get your hands on. It is one thing to know an area of the law when reciting it, but the most important thing is to be able to apply it to the scenarios given in the exams. I holed myself up in various coffee shops with as much coffee as I could get my hands on to help with this! After sitting an exam or two, I would go through with the mark schemes and make notes on the application of the law in each question – particularly where I got the answer wrong. I found my condensed ‘exam scheme feedback’ notes to be one of the most useful revision materials that I made, and are certainly the most practical as they show the application of your knowledge to the particular exam. This is particularly important for the SAQs, where it does feel depressingly easy to completely miss the mark by simply spouting your knowledge on the area rather than answering the question. I would advise doing mock papers throughout your revision – not just at the very end – as you my find gaps in your knowledge which need plugging or developing further, and the night before the exam is really not the best time to realise this!

In summary, do not panic. These exams might seem like the worst thing in the world at the time, but if you take a deep breath and take a level-headed approach to revision then you can use your time in the best way possible. You will also be so glad once they are out of the way, and you may be pleasantly surprised (as I was) with your results when they are finally released. Good luck!

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