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Law research and writing skills: Exam preparation

Law exam preparation

Advice on writing and study skills is provided by the Student Academic Success division; if you need further advice you can book a consultation with a Language and Learning Adviser.

Exams at law school can take different forms. This page outlines the most common types of law exams and provides strategies to help you prepare notes, study effectively, and approach exams during your law degree. 

Law exams can be:

  • Open book: this means you can bring notes, books, legislation and other resources into the exam with you. 
  • Closed book: you cannot bring any notes or material into the exam.
  • Take home: usually, a take home exam is released online and students are given a set time period (i.e. 3-5 days) to write and submit the exam.
  • eExam: an exam or test using Monash's eAssessment platform. Students use their own device in a secure environment. You can read more about eExams here

Within these exam types, there may be: problem-based questions with legal scenarios, essay questions about policy or theoretical aspects of the course, statutory interpretation exercises, or short answer questions.

Exam notes

Whatever type of exam/s you have, it is important to prepare a good set of notes.The format of your notes may differ depending on the type of exam you have. For open book and take-home exams, you need a concise set of notes that allows you to easily retrieve important information. Exams generally require you to apply the law to a set of facts, not just state what the law is, so your notes need to allow you to do this quickly.

  • Condense your lecture, tutorial and weekly reading notes into concise summaries: perhaps working by week, topic or area of law
  • Where useful, cross-reference to legislation and cases (tabs or colour-coding may help)
  • Importantly, use your notes while studying for open-book exams. Make sure you know them well and can use your notes to answer practice questions. This is why it's important to make your own set of notes. 
  • When writing up practice questions (problem questions or essays), try to write to a time limit. If you have a closed-book exam, try to answer the questions without looking at your notes. Assess your answers using your class notes, and see where you need to revise further.
  • See our Note-taking page for further tips, and watch the Law Study Hacks video on the left hand column of this page.

Claire Macken (see General books below) has some useful tips on creating exam summaries.

Approaching exams:

  • Try to write a brief plan or outline of your answer first. This is particularly helpful for essay or problem-based questions. You may feel that you don't have time to do this, but it's important that your answers have a clear structure, and a plan will help you with this. 
  • Use headings, include counter arguments and provide evidence for your response.
  • For problem-based questions, consider using the IRAC structure
  • For essays, make sure you have an argument. Use proper essay structure: introduction (with a thesis statement), paragraphs with topic sentences, and a conclusion. See more on essays here
  • Try to roughly calculate how much time you have for each question, and stick to this so that you attempt every question. 

Using past exams

From 2017, past exam papers are no longer held by the Library.

Practice exams are provided by your lecturer to ensure that the content and style of exam preparation is suitable for the unit you are studying.  Look in Moodle or speak to your lecturer about any practice exams for the unit and check for revision notes and discussions in the lead-up to exams.

Exam preparation resources

Law study guides

Some law books to help your preparation. Check Search for more.