Study Skills

Learning law? You've come to the right place. Below you will find various resources to enhance your learning law experience.

Study skills

  • Law note taking - improve your note taking for success
  • Listening - how to listen out for and pay attention to detail
  • Legal cases - what are they?
  • Legal referencing - learn how to reference properly
  • Legal reasoning - learn to critically reason and think
  • Legal writing - how to write correctly for success
  • Statutory interpretation - skills on how to interpret the law
  • Law exams - succeed in your law exams

Law note taking

Whether you take notes in a campus class, or by listening to an audio-streamed class online is a skill. Taking notes helps you learn the principles of law; it is your interpretation of what a lecturer has said. Well-prepared law notes are the key to successful law exams.

A useful way to write notes is to take a step back to look at the 'big picture'. To do this, ask yourself: What is this subject about? What will I learn from studying it? What are the objectives of my studies in this law subject?

A good place to start for note-taking is to take a step back and look at the 'big picture'.

You can get the 'big picture' of a law subject by looking in a few different places:

  • Have a look at a legal dictionary – they have great definitions for each subject and can shed some light on the sorts of terms you'll be studying this Trimester
  • Read the undergraduate handbook - an example is Deakin's Undergraduate Handbook. A University handbook it contains a brief description of each subject within the law degree. How is your particular subject described? What does it say you will learn in this subject? What is the assessment in your subjects?
  • Read any materials sent to you as part of the course – study outlines, study guides, introductory notes from your lecturer
  • Navigate around online sites, look at the various sections, any materials posted in the Unit, familiarise yourself
  • The table of contents in your textbook and/or casebook will give you an idea of the topics within a subject – usually there will be a major heading, followed by several sub-headings. Sometimes a book will be divided into parts, with Chapters within each Part. Even if you do not really understand what the headings refer to, read through them, taking note of how the course is structured, and the sorts of things you will learn.

Learn to summarise and write effective study notes by having a look through the following links.

Resources on Effective Note-Taking

Deakin Student Study Support

Deakin University: Thesis: the reading and writing process

University of New South Wales - note taking skills


Listening is hard work!

A listener is easily distracted because our minds operate at a faster pace than a speaker words. Yet listening is a skill. You can improve on how you listen. For example, remember to tune-in, pay attention and look at the speaker's face. Respond by rephrasing the main points in your head, or asking questions (if and when appropriate). Project ahead as to what you think the speaker will say next.

For some hints, tips and ideas on the skills for effective listening, as well as taking part in discussions, have a look at the following links.

Resources on Skills in Listening

Legal cases

Legal referencing

Legal reasoning

Legal writing

Statutory interpretation

Along with cases, statutes ('legislation' or simply 'Acts') is the law. It is law made by Parliament and there are specific rules that govern its interpretation. In fact, many of these rules are found in, yes, statute! The Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cth) is a good starting place for Commonwealth legislation.

Learning how to work out the words in a Statute is important for everyone learning law, so have a look through the following links for hints, tips and ideas for statutory interpretation.

Resources for Statutory Interpretation

Deakin Law School Guide to Statutory Interpretation (PDF, 190.8KB)

In this document you will find a guide to understanding and interpreting statutes.

Law exams

Often, your success in a particular law unit will depend on your performance in an end-of-Trimester exam. Start preparing for law exams as early as possible. Here's some ideas to get you started.

To start exam preparation

Write a schedule from right now until exams. Start with scheduling all the things you have to do even during the time leading up to exams (review classes, work commitments etc) After that, you should slot in several study sessions a week.

To determine study times, consider: What is the best time to study? When do I achieve the most from studying? Do I work best at night, or in the morning? When scheduling your study times, allocate appropriate study sessions. As a guide, a 50/10-minute schedule works well for most people – a 50 minute study session followed by a 10 minute break. Use your study sessions wisely. 3 sessions of 50 minutes is not long!

Don't feel overwhelmed! If you have a lot to do, write your tasks down on a 'to do' list. Break up large tasks into smaller ones, and work steadily, crossing them off your list as you go. Do one job at a time.

The key to successful law study is comprehensive and organised law exam notes. See the Law Essentials Guide to Effective Note Taking.

Prioritise. Isolate and identify the most important task.

Schedule realistic times to complete tasks. Don't overschedule.

Give 100% of your attention to the task at hand. Don't get sidetracked by email or internet, the phone & other distractions

Don't! Overdo it. Learning how to stop is also very important!

No time on your schedule to study? So re-assess where you allocate your time. Some ideas :

  • Can you get up earlier or go to bed later?
  • Can you remove some commitments that take up your time?
  • Can you use travel time, particularly on public transport, to read texts, sort through folders, go over review notes?
Past Exams
  • Throughout the trimester but particularly in the last weeks leading to the exam, do as many past exams, review and practice questions you can get your hands on
  • Practising on past exams is crucial to test your understanding of the subject
  • There is no need to write entire answers out-in-full (although this is also an excellent exercise to prepare you for the exam). A detailed dot-point answer of what you would write in the exam is also very useful.
The day before the exam
  • Get everything ready – pens in clear plastic bags, pens of different colours for headings and sub-headings, a highlighter to mark the question- If you have an open-book exam, clearly mark your exam notes and/or textbook for easy exam reference.
  • Have a good night's rest
Useful resources for law exams

Deakin - General Exam Information
Maria Andritsos, Useful guide to Open and Closed Book exams
LawSkool - previews of law exam answers
Claire Macken, The Law Student's Survival Guide: 9 Steps to Law Study Success, Thomson Reuters, 2009.
Rick Krever, Mastering Law Studies & Law Exam Techniques

There are various forms that assessment will take during your law studies.

Assessment can include the following:

Legal research essay
Case study
Short answer questions
Problem based questions
Open book exam
Closed book exam
Letter of Advice
Memorandum of Advice
Witness Examination

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