University Diaries: Law School and The Fool

Level 1: What Is An A?

It was not until late in my law degree that I really came to understand what an ‘A’ mark meant. Once I did, however, I finally began to understand what kind of work I had to put in, and produce, in order to get those top marks. Therefore, I consider the understanding of what an ‘A’ means critical to the substantive ability to understand what kind of work an ‘A’ mark entails for a law student.

One thing that you will hear a lot about is the importance of writing in a specifically ‘legal’ way. In conjunction with the phrase ‘legal writing,’ you will often hear the terms ‘clear and concise.’

Critical Point 1: Good legal writing is clear and concise. This is fundamental to both attaining good grades at law school as well as your future career as a lawyer (in any field.)

Question 1: What does it mean to write in a clear and concise way? This is a pivotal question which forms the basis of the answer to what kind of work is needed to attain an ‘A.’ However, the answer to this question really requires another question to be asked first.

Question 2: What does an ‘A’ mark mean from the perspective of a lecturer? This is the crux of what we need to understand – the perspective of the lecturer in awarding grades. Thus, from the perspective of a lecturer, a top mark must mean something.

Let’s start with the most poignant point; first, the student needs to have understood the content to such a point that they are able to effectively break down the topics into digestible form. When a student understands the substantive content, they are able to write clearly. When a student does not understand the content, or does not understand it as well, it is reflected in their writing style. The most prominent way this is done is by writing too much. When a student is lost in their understanding, they will write too much, often using run on sentences and writing in circles. Another thing that may happen is the use of big words or concepts in order to deter from an overall lack of understanding.

Q1 Answer: Clear writing is the ability to effectively break down substantive concepts and principles into their most simple form. Thus, the goal ought to be, at all points, to understand the content to a point in which you could effectively reteach that material to another person – whether a law student or not.

The second thing that a lecturer will be looking at is the ability of the student to critically engage with the material. It will be clear that this is a second way in which the lecturer will be assessing the student’s understanding of the material. The way a lecturer tests a student’s ability to critically engage with the material is through assessments. There are numerous forms of assessment, but overall, they all require you to critically engage with the material.

When a lecturer is looking at a student’s critical engagement they are looking to see the following methodology; has the student been able to work through the question in a way that stays on topic and follows a concise and well-presented methodology.

This is a point that we will expand on later when we take a more in depth look at assessments. However, to answer our initial questions;

Q 1 Answer: A lecturer will be looking at the students overall understanding when they set assessments. Part of a students’ understanding is their ability to critically engage with the content. When a student understands the content, they are able to follow a concise methodology for reaching an ultimate conclusion. The student will not deviate from the question being asked and will present the information and analysis in a manner that coincides with their ability to breakdown the content in a clear way.

A lecturer awarding marks will be grading according to their perception of how the student has understood the material. A student needs to write in a legal manner. The legal manner of writing is most commonly referred to as ‘clear and concise’ writing. To understand what clear and concise means as a student, we need to understand what clear and concise means from the perspective of the university lecturer. Clear writing is writing that shows the lecturer the student has understood the material to the point of being able to teach the material to another person in a simple way. Concise writing is concerned with a students’ ability to critically engage with the content. Effective critical engagement requires the student to follow a methodology that is sensical to the analysis the student has been asked to undertake. Moreover, concise writing does not deter from the substantive question that requires answering.

Our goal is to write clearly and concisely. This requires us to ensure we understand the material such to the point that we are able to deconstruct the content and explain it in a simple manner to a non-law student in a way that is methodical and straight to the point.

This may seem like a hugely broad goal. However, as I hope will soon become clear, it provides us with a base knowledge of what kind of work we need to be putting in. If the base goal is understanding, what are the ways in which we are able to study, assess and take notes in such a way to maximise our understanding BUT ALSO to show our understanding to the teacher/lecturer?

If you are with me so far, let’s continue on!



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