For the past 10 months, myself and so many other students have laboriously revised for, and undertaken exams. But these were not just any exams, these were open-book, online exams (doesn’t quite have the same flavour as the M&S advert does it?). In this blog, I will set out my top tips for preparing for online, open-book exams and discuss the different elements that doing these assessments virtually brings to the table. Whether you’re taking an LLB, Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), Legal Practice Course (LPC), or studying for any form of course or assessment online in pursuit of a legal career this year, this will almost certainly apply to you.
Upon receiving an email confirming that exams are to be taken open-book, most students (naturally) respond with a deep sigh of misplaced relief, as they feel the pressure of memorising masses of information gradually lift and ease. Queue an onslaught of WhatsApp group notifications and virtual celebrations. While we’re all struggling with this lockdown and heavily relying on the comfort of online connections and communication, it’s important to use this independent study time to your advantage. If your phone is incessantly beeping and buzzing on the desk beside you, I recommend that you temporarily disconnect from the conversation and tune out of the brouhaha. Collaboration and teamwork have their value but I find that a quiet, solitary space can often result in more focused learning and improve attention to detail.
Get colourful and creative
Many of us enjoy the process of purchasing colourful highlighters and other assorted stationery in a bid to create award-winning stylised notes. The use of colour and visual variety often assists our stressed brain while in exam-mode, and signposts important information. It’s like a coded message to our future selves that says, “Don’t worry Liv, I’ve got your back. Here is the answer!”.
While reading an article on Ted Conferences, I discovered that there are even more ways to inspire and engage your imagination while simultaneously giving your brain what Dalton-Smith terms a “creative rest”. On this recommendation, try not to only fill your pages with colourful and motivating messages, but also your workspace and revision environment. This might be artwork that makes you feel inspired or calm, or objects that you find stimulating and remind you why you started studying law in the first place (maybe a trophy or certificate you achieved for completing an internship). Improving your surroundings can lift your mood and creativity, and might even help you to enjoy what you are learning (*gasp*).
Apply the revision method that is appropriate to your course of study
When the move to remote and virtual study was announced, we all had to experiment and evolve to new ways of working. Personally, my revision and exam techniques have differed from course to course. For the GDL, I applied the A3 poster method, finding large and colour-coded keywords and flowcharts an effective way of triggering my memory. During the LPC, however, I have so far attempted a completely different approach – a mixture of typing notes, tabbing textbook references, and critically analysing workshop tasks and multiple-choice questions. This shows that we are all constantly adapting, and that there is often more than one type of revision and preparation method that works for one person.
Or at least some of it. You can use your notes to confirm what you’re unsure about, rather than rely on them independently to do the exam for you. This will put you in better stead for both the assessment and future practice. Try to commit these skills and resources to memory so that you can use them in practice in the not-too-distant future as well! Even in interviews for a paralegal, trainee, or other roles, you can often apply your academic knowledge to demonstrate your interest in a particular sector or to complete an assessment task, such as a presentation.
The exam itself
Get your notes ready to go at least one week before the exam and practise using your technique in a mock or specimen exam. That way, you can see for yourself how effective those notes are at aiding your memory and your mark will be the final indicator that something (if anything) needs to be changed before the real thing. Don't panic! Just like any exam, it’ll all be over in a matter of hours, so just focus while you can and do your best.
Deep breath! Good luck.