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Advice on choosing optional modules

Advice on choosing optional modules

Bethany Barrett


As the academic year draws to a close, you may be considering which optional modules to choose for your next year at university. If you are doing a qualifying law degree, you will have several compulsory modules (namely contract, tort, criminal, land, EU, trusts and some form of public law). But typically, this also leaves room for you to choose several other modules from a wide array of legal fields and maybe even beyond through an ‘open’ unit from another discipline. This can be an exciting, but scary, time as you look towards the future academic year. As always, my advice here is just based on my personal experiences, and the way that you – or your university – may choose to approach this might be different.

Future career options

If you are certain you want to become a family lawyer, then it is probably a good idea to take a family law unit, and the same applies to other areas of law such as employment, criminal or commercial law. However, remember that if your degree is a Qualifying Law Degree (QLD), then you will have taken the core units as mandatory ones anyway, so should already have a good grounding across a diverse range of legal fields. Consequently, if you want to choose a slightly different unit to what you believe you want your career to be in, do not be afraid to do so. Most firms do not specify which units they want you to have completed. Remember that many lawyers may have done a completely different degree, and taken the GDL instead, so the optional units you take have little bearing in this way.

Past likes and dislikes

This piece of advice applies to all degrees. It is always useful to consider which units you have taken in the past when considering which future units to choose. Personally, I discovered throughout my first two years of university that I strongly dislike more jurisprudential units. Consequently, when it came to choosing my third-year units, I resisted choosing ‘sex, gender and law’ – despite how interesting the title may have seemed to me with my feminist hat on, my law student hat was telling me that discussing all of the theory this unit would involve would make me miserable. Instead, I stuck to choosing the more practical (some would argue less human), black-letter law units, such as banking or commercial law. This has certainly paid off, and if I ever have to think about theories of rights or the nature of law again, it will be too soon. But each to their own, and if that’s your thing then go for it.

Nature of assessment

This is a common piece of advice, but rightly so. By this point in your academic journey, you might have worked out whether you prefer coursework or exams. But it is not quite as simple as whether you work well under timed exam pressure or longer deadlines – make sure you consider how organised you are (eg, could you plan your time out in advance well enough to deal with three coursework deadlines within a short space of time?) and also about pressure points throughout the year (eg, doing a mixture of coursework and exam units would better spread the stress throughout assessment seasons).

Future unit choices

Unless you are going into your final year, then the choices you take may impact the choices you can make in future years regarding units, as some final year units have pre-requisites. Make sure you try to think ahead so you can keep your options as open as possible. For me, a few third-year units required company or family law to have already been completed, meaning that you had to have chosen them in your second year.


As much as you might like a particular tutor or their teaching style, try not to base your choice of modules on who is leading it. Teaching teams change all of the time, with professors either moving universities, changing units or taking research leave. While this factor may influence your decision, do not let it be the only reason you do or do not pick a module.


Finally, talk to other students to get their advice and opinions on how units were run in previous years. If you do not know anyone who has taken a particular unit, ask your personal tutor or even email the current unit coordinator to see whether they could put you in touch with someone. Getting advice from the unit coordinator themselves may also be useful because – while they are clearly a biased source of information – they can advise you on which combinations of units work well together or what sort of student tends to perform better in their unit. Again, such advice should not completely sway your decision if you think you would enjoy a particular module because every student is different). Plus, even if you only get some tips about how to succeed in a particular unit should you take it then it is worth listening to.

Good luck!