I am very lucky as I have been blessed with a good memory which has been a great asset throughout my education, especially when I memorise content for exams . I have never had too many issues with memorising content. However, I have found memorising the content for my first-year university law exams a big challenge.
Exams are hard for everyone, especially if you have a bad memory! When going to university there is often a lot of content to memorise (depending on what you decide to study), and this is no different when studying law. Law can be very content heavy with hundreds of cases to know for each module and many rules to learn. This can be overwhelming, especially when there are rules that are very similar, such as the rules for criminal causation and the rules for causation relating to a tort.
Don’t let the amount put you off! (It is manageable I promise!)
In the first week of university the amount of content put a lot of people off studying law. There was even a time I was waiting at a bus stop and an elderly lady started talking to me. She asked what I studied, and it turns out she had started studying law but switched to history when she could not cope with the amount of cases that had to be learnt.
It is very important that the amount of content does not put you off! It can be very overwhelming at first, but I am here to share how I manage to memorise the content in time for an exam.
The first steps to memorising content
The first thing to work out is what kind of exam it is. For example, it could be an open book exam (I have not had an open book exam, but I will next year). The next thing to work out is what you are allowed in the exam and what resources you may be given before the exam. I have had exams where we were given a case list in the exam. Furthermore, you may be given the questions or topics that are on the exam before you go into the exam.
It is good to know this right from the beginning, so you know how to structure your revision. When I first started studying for my law degree I had no idea that you may get a case list in the exam or may get the questions before you go into the exam. If I had known this right at the start it would have definitely made me feel a lot better!
If you know the topics/questions that will come up on the exam you can focus your revision on those topics. Furthermore, if you are given a case list it means you only have to memorise the first part of the case as you can look at it on the case list. Alternatively, you could focus your revision around the case list by knowing what each case shows. However, if you do this, be careful you do not miss any points out that may not relate to a case on the case list.
To start my revision, I get all my lecture and seminar notes and I re-write them, so they are neat. When I re-write them, I make sure I put the key points/rules down and the authority that tells me that.
For example, if I was revising diminished responsibility for voluntary manslaughter I would write:
1. Abnormality of mental functioning
- R v Byrne (‘a state of mind so different from ordinary human beings that the reasonable person would term it abnormal’)
2. Caused by a recognised medical condition
- World Health Organisation
- Exception (R v Dowds)
3. Abnormality substantially impairs defendant’s ability to:
a. Understand the nature of their conduct
b. Form a rational judgment or
c. Exercise self-control
4. Abnormality provides an explanation for the killing
*Disclaimer: there is much more to diminished responsibility than what is displayed above, and some law may be outdated (as law changes a lot!). Do not solely rely on the points above, it was just a short example of how I would set my revision notes out.
Setting your revision notes out like this (in a bullet point form) makes it a lot less overwhelming and a lot easier to memorise. Sometimes it can take 2 or 3 attempts at re-writing your notes until you get them in a bullet point form ready to memorise.
This can be time consuming, so it is easier to do this throughout your studies. For example, if you have studied murder and have moved onto studying intoxication, you could condense your notes for murder while studying intoxication instead of condensing all your notes 3 weeks before the exam. However, this may not be possible if you have lots of other work so do not put pressure on yourself to do this! You will find time, and everyone is guilty of doing it a few weeks before the exam at some point (I have left it to the last minute before when I have been busy with other work).
Now it’s time to memorise!
Once you have your notes condensed it is time to memorise them! You should be somewhat familiar with the content from when you condensed your notes but now it is time to tattoo the content onto your brain.
To do this I write out one or two lines of my condensed notes. I then look at it and cover it up and try write it out word for word not looking. Once I have memorised those one or two lines I will add another one or two lines. I find this is the best way to make sure I definitely know the content.
The first few topics are often quite easy to memorise and can often be quite quick to learn. However, when you are gradually adding content it does become a lot harder to memorise and there may be certain cases you may forget. This is very normal so do not give up! This means that it can be quite time consuming so make sure you start with plenty of time.
Practice, Practice, Practice…
To make sure that the content sticks in your head, you should run through all your notes that you have memorised at least once a day and write them all out (like a Brain Dump. See my post on ‘how to use a Brain Dump to de-stress and revise‘). Do not assume that because you were able to memorise them all yesterday that you will be able to memorise them all perfectly again today. Often you will forget aspects, so it is important to keep running through them.
If you are struggling with time you could always look at your condensed notes then try say them word for word out loud and keep adding content, just as you would if you were writing it down. This is often a quicker way of doing it and I know many people who prefer this way.
I personally prefer writing it out as it is easier to check whether or not you have missed anything. Furthermore, I like to have a visual representation that I know the content, but it is entirely up to you.
When trying to memorise cases I always find them easier to memorise if you know some of the facts of the case as it is easier to link it a point of law. For example, a case that has always stuck with me is R v White for factual causation (the defendant put poison in his mother’s drink in the hopes that she would drink it and die. The mother never woke up, but medical reports showed she died of a heart attack and not the poison, so the son was not liable for murder but for attempt).
To sum up, when revising you should condense your notes, memorise a few lines at a time, leave plenty of time and do not panic.
You have got this!