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Exams? Yeah, I hate the buggers too

I was asked by the Pearson (the publishers) to contribute a session to the annual Law Express revision day. They asked me to talk about exams and in particular about how you survive them.

I never liked exams as a student and I wasn’t initially all that good at them. I just didn’t get the point. After a conversation with my tutor at university I realised that I didn’t have to get the point, I just had to treat taking exams as a skill that can be learned like any other skill and I had to let go of the idea that to do well in an exam you have to know everything and remember it.

So that really was the message I wanted to share – if you’re taking an exam just remember that as long as you have attended classes, done the work you’ve been asked to do as you’ve gone a long and have done a sensible amount of revision, you will know and understand a lot of stuff. You do not need to learn everything, you need to understand it and then there might be one or two things you absolutely have to remember (and they can be written down very quickly) but the rest you just need to think about. Trust yourself and remember to use your brain when you get into the exam.

The other key message is this: There is no right way to prepare and to deal with exam pressure and stress – work out what works for you and stop worrying about what others are doing. To be honest people who start writing the second the examiner says ‘you may start’ freak me out a little. I still wonder what the hell they are writing  – I’d like to at least read the question paper before I start writing but then I guess others get panicked by the fact that someone next to them isn’t writing immediately. It’s about what works for you and we’re all different.

I still don’t really like exams, luckily I don’t have to take any but I don’t like setting them either. Exams are weird, artificial and sometimes unnecessarily hostile with the uncomfy chairs, too small desks, loudly ticking clocks and stern looking examiners/inivgilators. Pens never run out in lectures, they save that for exams, water bottles only leak in exams, your usually comfy pants suddenly make you feel really self-conscious and then you can’t remember anything at all… But try and remember this: Exams are there to test your ability to apply what you know to a practical or theoretical question within a given time. They are not a memory test, so it is not about remembering lots of information, it is about understanding stuff and if you understand something you will be able to think about it, use it and develop it when you get into the exam room.

Anyway, just in case they are useful to any of you, my slides from the day are here:

Exam tips


On research seminars, talking to people and learning stuff

Last Thursday saw the School of Law having another go at a little seminar series. We have tried this before and they fizzle out because attendance is usually low and people are busy… However we all do interesting research and we need to make time to talk to each other about it. So in spite of being full of cold and having a cotton wool brain  I was really looking forward to it. The plan is to have regular seminars where one of us can present work in progress or even just an idea and we can chat about it. I like that. It’s what academic should be doing  – having ideas and talking about them.

Well my wonderful colleague Dr Sanna Elfving has lots of ideas, good ideas and mostly they are about things that I don’t know all that much about. Sanna delivered the first research seminar on her work looking at the regulation of shale gas in the UK. Her slides from the session can be found here:

Elfving SK_UK shale gas regime_12 March 15.

I was struck by three things as we talked about shale gas extraction. First, the idea of pumping water and chemicals deep into the ground under high pressure seems like a bloody stupid idea – perhaps not the best thought to base a legal debate on but it was the first that srpung to mind. The other two points are rather more legal in nature: The regulation, though not specific to shale gas but designed to cover more conventional oil and gas extraction, seems ridiculously complex. There are so many different organisations involved in granting the many different licences which might be required, not to mention the role of planning permissions etc. Doesn’t the complexity mean that it is quite likely that something somewhere falls between the cracks and our health and environmnent are not adequately protected? If you are pro fracking then the complexity is absured, if you are against it, it is worrying.

The other question that arose for me is the obvious gap between politcal rhetoric and politcal will to actually see this happen. The Tories in particualr have pledged their support to fracking but nothing is done to actually facilitate making fracking a reality. Europe (or more accurately the EU but accuracy isn’t always a strong point in these debates) gets blamed for delays but actually there is no European legal framework on this and case law coming from Luxembourg is sending mixed messages (I must ask Sanna about the cases she mentioned, I have already forgotten).

It was a really lovely way to spend an hour and I was again struck by how varied legal scholarship is and how much really interesting stuff there is out there that I don’t really know anything about. More importantly though I also remembered how much fun it is to talk to people about their work, to hear their thoughts and to learn from people who really know their stuff. Research seminars are a good thing, go if you can!