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How to: Get a Distinction in the MA Law (incorporating GDL)

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

Everything* You Need to Know about studying for the MA Law (also applicable to the GDL) at the University of Law.

When starting my Masters in Law, particularly coming from a Physics background at a different university, I had to re-learn how to study. It took me all year to nail it. To save you the tears, I'm aiming for this to be the guide to end all guides. Everything* you need to know, in one place.

I enrolled on the MA in January 2021 and began from the ground up. I had no legal education at the time and had never experienced how ULaw works. It took two semesters for me to realise what needed to be prioritised, find the best order in which to tackle tasks, and hone the skills to effectively and efficiently study law. My third of three semesters, I have to say, was as smooth-sailing as can be. I came out with a Distinction.

I'm here to create a resource to help you to reach your optimum more quickly, saving on hours of studying (and many tears). Whilst studying is a personal process, here are my seven tried and tested steps:


STEP ONE: Organise your life.

Simple yet time-consuming, it is important that this step is completed, and completed first to set you up for the busy year ahead.

  • Set up a digital calendar with different parts of life represented by different colours. This will help you to see at a glance what you have lined up for the coming weeks. Sometimes more importantly, this can also help you to find balance. For example, if 'social' is purple and 'exercise' is blue, you can quickly see when a spread lacks those colours and try to reprioritise your week to dedicate at least one section to each of the missing categories.

  • Complete the pre-course work in detail. Study the Legal Methods manual (available online) to gain the context into which you can fit all of your future studies. This is especially important for non-law students, as this context will not be repeated during the course. This manual will be assumed knowledge, and you will be tested on it.

  • Create a spreadsheet to record your grades. Set this up so that entering your grades will allow you to calculate what grades you need to aim for in future assessments to achieve your overall goal. This will save you a lot of guessing and 'what ifs'.

  • Prepare your friends and family. Yes, it is you who is studying this course. But your friends and family will also be affected, particularly by your lack of free time. They will also need to be ready to support you through prolonged periods of stress.

  • Speak to your employer. If you are working alongside his course, make sure that you let your employer know that you will be needing time off for revision and exams. Depending on the employer, you may also be able to negotiate flexible working times to allow you to fit your studies into your routine however works best for you.

STEP TWO: Organise your studies.

Rather than jumping straight in when you receive your materials, take a moment to check in and prepare how and when you will study.

  • Check your assessment dates and plan your revision. I would work backwards from the assessments, allocating as many days as you deem necessary for revision. Leave a few extra days - you will almost always be grateful for this.

  • Plan your semester in sessions. Continuing to work backwards, plan in the sessions within which you will complete the work required for the semester. As an example, you could allocate two days per workshop; in these two sessions, you would undertake steps three and five for the relevant workshop.

  • Do not forget the LRIP. If you're undertaking the MA, you will be required to produce an LRIP. Trust me when I advise you to set time aside for this, both towards the end of the year, and weekly throughout each semester wherever possible. I will be covering the LRIP separately, but the best thing you can do for yourself on this topic is to do something on it each week. Make sure you're progressing your ideas - no need to wait to be assigned a supervisor. This will help you to complete it to an endpoint you're satisfied with, and avoid neglecting you final exams. Slow and steady wins the race.

  • Create skeleton documents of all modules. I used the chapter contents pages in the provided manuals to create outlines of each module. This was useful to get a general overview of what would be covered. I then filled out these skeletons with my notes in the later stages.

STEP THREE: Pre-work.

The MA Law is nothing like an undergraduate degree, in my experience. Remember that the most important thing is to do it - or risk being lost.

  • Do it. As above, pre-work will be the foundation for your learning,. The core sessions will reinforce what you have learnt on your own, and help you to apply it in context. You will struggle to keep up if you skip this step.

  • Start with the consolidation slides. A bit rogue, but I found that starting my learning by using the consolidation slides was a great way of forming a big-picture view of the topic. This helps you to build basic knowledge so that the readings don't go straight over your head. This process also allows you to begin to assess which points will be key in the readings and workshops, and thus identify sections you may feel more comfortable skim-reading without needing to make detailed notes. Ensure you add notes to your skeleton documents if you come across anything you did not know previously.

  • Create a mini-manual. Whilst reading the assigned chapters for each workshop, I found it useful to highlight anything I thought was key to a case or key to application of the law. I would then type the highlighted sections into my skeleton documents to create a bit of flesh.

  • Spend your time on the extra readings. I like to create an A4 mindmap based on each reading, but you can approach this however works best for you. These resources will be amazing during both workshops and exams, if you prepare them properly.

  • Skipping material. Time is tight. If you need to skip anything, skip the online tutorials. Some of the information in these will be repeated elsewhere. You can then use these as revision aides if you need some further context or examples to work through.

  • Follow your pre-made timetable. This should help you to get the pre-work done ahead of time, meaning you will have plenty of time for revision at the end of the semester.

STEP FOUR: Core sessions.

Use the core sessions to apply what you learned during the pre-work.

  • Turn up. Whilst attendance was relatively low on my course, those of us who attended all of the sessions agreed that they were really worth it.

  • Maintain attention over notes. If you're struggling to keep up, or are completely lost, just make sure that you maintain your attention on the session. A quick daydream can cost you extra understanding or important advice which could well make a difference.

  • Ask questions. You can always email your lecturers, but honestly, there are very few opportunities to catch up on this course if you leave the sessions not understanding something. Do your best to ask for help when needed.

  • Think about where to make your notes. The core sessions are great places to bolster your self-made mini manuals. They're even more useful for creating exam structures. If it works for you, you can fill these with the examples encountered throughout each semester. These are a STELLAR resource.

STEP FIVE: Consolidate.

It is not time to forget about it all!

  • Use your time wisely. Think about what you need to work on after each workshop, and make sure you're going back over things in the way which isvmost effective for you. For example, I would create case flashcards andvedit my mini-manuals to be more concise; the provided test questions provided no benefit to my consolidation. Another good technique is to teach someone else about what you have done. This helps your confidence to grow and allows you to realise what you're weak on.

  • Email your tutors. Do not be shy. Remember to email your questions to your tutors ASAP so that you can consolidate our knowledge with the correct answers whilst your head is still in the game.

  • Mini essays. Sorry. This can be a lot of effortvbut is so underrated. Turn your mindmaps of the extra readings into separate mini-essays. Make sure you bullet point any opinions and different stances you can think of. If you had a good tutor, you will be able to back these up with opinions from judges/professionals/academics.

STEP SIX: Revise.

If you have completed the above steps, revision should genuinely be revision, rather than a continuation of learning, which tends to happen if we are underprepared.

  • Perfect your mini-manual. Do what you need to make it as accessible as possible for you. This could be changing the order of things, altering formats/layouts, shortening sections, or adding a contents page... The opportunities are endless.

  • Create one-page summaries. Do this for each unit. These can be hand-written and do not need to be gorgeous; you just need to go through the process.

  • Set up your resources. Make sure everything is as you would need if you were in an exam.

  • Try every paper. You will be able to look at past exam papers, specimen papers, and test papers. There is no benefit in avoiding them. I tend to split each paper into its topics, and then assign two topics per day during my revision period. So, for example, one morning I would tackle Sexual Offences, and would have it written down which questions on which papers pertained to sexual offences. This ensures you can spot patterns in the questions, realise and then revise what you do and don't know, and improve your confidence.

  • Don't wait. As mentioned, there is no benefit to waiting. Spread your revision out over a couple of months if possible. Give yourself plenty of time.

STEP SEVEN: Nail the exams.

Grab your water, prepare your snacks, and let's go.

  • Beforehand. Sit at the desk and visualise yourself nailing it. I don't know how others feel, but this has strangely been working well for me.

  • Keep track of time. Whatever amount of time you are allotted, divide the exam into equal timeslots - and stick to them. Remember to allocate around 15 minutes on either side of your 'writing' time.

  • Read every question. Decide which ones you do not want to tackle (cross them out). Then you can figure out which ones you may perform best at.

  • Plan. Before delving into an answer, make sure you write a very quick plan so that you don't accidentally go off course or miss something crucial. This can include whatever you need - keywords, relevant cases, or more detail if you prefer.

As my dad always says (although he may have stolen it from Benjamin Franklin)...

If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Niamh O'Connor / niamhfoconnor / published 23.08.2022

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