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Coping With Open Book Exams on the LPC

Coping With Open Book Exams on the LPC

Depending on your institution, your exams will either be open book or closed book. Open-book exams allow you to take certain materials into the exam with you from a prescribed list. This usually consists of the module textbook and two lever-arch files of notes. Closed book exams are the opposite, you are not allowed to take materials into the exam with you, leaving just you and your brain!

The general view amongst LPC students is that, since exams are open book, the questions are going to be harder, signifying that the expected standards will be much higher and therefore require a greater degree of detailed knowledge from you. On the other hand, closed-booked exams will be marked less harshly due to the fact students cannot take any materials in with them.

Most people will probably be used to closed-book exams, since this is the style they have become accustomed to during A-level and undergraduate study. As a result of using this method for at least five years, the majority of students will have developed a revision technique to cope with closed-book exams.

When I first found out that my LPC exams were open-book I was overwhelmed with joy. The prospect of not having to memorise every single piece of information, case and statute made me grin from ear to ear. Just like many other LPC students on the course, ‘hooray’ sprung to mind. However, this joy was short-lived and when the revision period finally kicked in it was as gruelling, if not worse, than any other I had encountered before.

So, if you can take all of your notes into the exam, what and how do you revise?

One of the hardest things is to know how to revise effectively on the LPC. Most people have a variety of techniques including: reading, rewriting, memorising, highlighting, tabbing, photocopying, etc. However, it is essential you find a way that best suits your personal abilities.

If you are behind on revision and are finding it particularly hard to schedule everything into a tight revision timetable, there is a temptation not do any revision at all and just rely on your notes from that module. However, in my experience open-book exams are just as hard as closed-book exams due to the fact that it is difficult to know what exactly to revise, how to organise your file or where to start tabbing and highlighting.

The key to open book exams is understanding and organisation.

Even in a three hour exam there will not be enough time to trawl through your notes frantically flicking page by page to find the information you need. So it’s best to revise in such a manner that you know where everything is in your folder. As regards to the open-book nature of the LPC exams, you have to adopt a different revision technique to the one you probably would use for closed-book exams. It’s no use learning every piece of information word by word, off by heart. Open book doesn’t mean no revision is needed, what it does mean is that you don’t have to remember things verbatim or if there is that odd fact that you have forgotten, you can look it up. The key is understanding.

There is an assumption that answers to the questions must be somewhere in the textbook and there is no way one can fail an open-book exam unless you can’t understand English. Whilst most of the theory and facts are contained in the book, the examiner is looking for a logical answer, but you cannot always find a perfect answer in the textbook because an exam question requires you to think – just as you would be expected to do in a real-life situation.

For example, in my Civil Litigation exam there was a question about disclosure where you were asked to analyse the other party’s disclosure list and identify what documents you would ask for that weren’t on the list you were provided with. This answer requires you to think rationally using all the facts given in the exam. It is of course helpful to have made a checklist in your notes about disclosure and a list of possible documents that could be missing, but you definitely wouldn’t find the answer in the textbook!

The power of the highlighter and the Post-It note should never be underestimated

Throughout the LPC you will hear the lecturers repeatedly use the words ‘checklist’, ‘consolidation’ and ‘application’ and by the end you will eventually get sick of hearing these words. So what do these words actually mean?

Checklist

Throughout the LPC, students are strongly recommended by lecturers to make their own checklists at the end of each workshop. When I first attempted to do this, I ended up rewriting the textbook! I was being too detailed and wordy, which took far too much of my time and was probably of no use to me in the exam.

A checklist is a useful memory aid used as a reminder to alert you of important facts, cases and law. It doesn’t have to be particularly detailed, but it should aim to merge everything you have learnt in a particular workshop into a simple format in one place, enabling you to use it as an overview in the exam. Checklists do work. Checklists are one of the best ways of how to revise on the LPC. They help to summarise all the information you have learnt, especially for insolvency, business and tax.
For example, in Property Law and Practice I broke down the module into topics: searches and enquiries, leases, freehold, sale of parts, etc. and made checklists for each one.

The workshops will cover the focal point of the exam questions so it is essential that you prepare answers to each of the workshops, including any consolidation questions given after the workshop, and produce perfect answers. Make checklists by making your own notes and write down important formulas or concepts that you’ve covered in class. Whilst it is okay to share notes amongst friends, you are far more likely to remember notes you have made yourself, so it will be simpler to follow them in the exam.

Consolidate

At the end of each workshop it is vital that you go over your notes and write up any loose ends while they are still fresh in your mind. If you can do this after every workshop, you will find it much easier to revise the topic, since you’ve already condensed the notes you’ve done for that workshop. You should aim to condense all the work you’ve done for each topic into a couple of sides of A4 – this way it should be easy to find and you can organise your folder so everything you need for each topic is quick to pull out.

Once you have your consolidated notes and organised your file, you just need to read through and make sure you understand everything. I would read the relevant topic in the textbook after reading over my lecture and workshop notes. This would always give me a good understanding of each subject. It’s a case of knowing where to find something when you need it. For example in Civil Litigation, there were various workshops which had examples of how to draft the particulars of a claim, the best way I found to organise my folder was to go through and put every single particular of a claim into one workshop and then tab it to state this.

Checklists do work. Checklists are one of the best ways of revising on the LPC.

Once you get the hang of using Post-It notes, your folders will look like you have squashed a rainbow in them! I stuck colour Post-It notes on all the important sections and co-ordinated everything so I could turn to a certain part for a certain question and have all the right information in that place. In the exam you can easily find the tab that says ‘Particulars of claim’, turn to it and start using previous examples to draft a new one in the exam without wasting any time looking for it. You should aim to do this for everything else you could be asked to draft, such as the defence, the letter before a claim, memorandum, case summary, etc. Most people tend to panic and forget what they’ve learned, so it can be comforting to know the information is right next to you if you need it.

After organising my folder in this way, I found that I didn’t really use my textbooks in the exam and instead relied upon my notes and the workshop materials open in front of me. The key to open book exams is understanding and organisation. Only then can you apply everything effectively. Be organised, use Post-It notes and know where everything is in your folder.

While reading your textbooks, it may be a good idea to annotate in the margins what each paragraph says – this helps in case you do need to look in the books and allows for a speedy look up. In addition, it’s also a good idea to cross-refer workshop notes to the relevant pages in the textbook, that way you won’t have to search through the index looking for something. I made sure I put the specimen exam paper at the front of my folder as well as the points to note from the mock exam. I found that I was writing out some answers from them in the actual exams, tailoring them to suit the question in hand.

Application

Unlike the LLB where you could get away with writing about the law, the best marks are gained for application and it is a good idea to keep this aspect at the forefront of your mind when in an exam. Every time you state a point, you should try to relate it back to the facts, explain why you’ve mentioned it and how it impacts on the particular scenario – the examiner is not a mind reader!

Application can often be the difference between a pass and fail or a commendation and distinction mark, so it is vital you express your thoughts, even if they seem obvious. Application can be broken down into three stages. The first step is to state the facts, then to state the law, and finally to apply the law to the facts of the question.

So using these three steps in Criminal Litigation, for example:

  1. The facts suggest that the prosecution are arguing that Tom is guilty of burglary because he stole a bag of buns from a bakery.
  2. Section 9(1)(b) of the Theft Act 1968 states that a person is guilty of burglary if having entered any building or part of a building as a trespasser he steals or attempts to steal anything in the building or that part of it or inflicts or attempts to inflict on any person therein any grievous bodily harm.
  3. Applying the law to the facts, it can be seen that having entered the bakery as a trespasser through the back open door, Tom stole a bag of buns from the bakery pursuant to Section 9(1)(b) of the Theft Act 1968 and is therefore guilty of burglary.

Overall, it is best to treat an open-book exam as a closed-book exam and use the books only as a last resort – they can be incredibly distracting when you don’t know what you are looking for. Aim to tab relevant topics in your folder as well as the code of conduct so they are easy to find on the day, and remember to apply the facts to the law!

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