I have received many messages from Student Barristers asking me to help them with making notes on the Bar Course. It can be overwhelming to consider the prospect of making notes on over 40 different topics for Civil and Criminal Litigation. In order to pass and do well on the course students will have to take their studying further than just writing down the words said by the Professor or by the textbook they are consulting.
Making notes is just one step in my seven stage study process. This process was developed during my time as a student barrister and enabled me to achieve a Very Competent in both Civil and Criminal Litigation.
The seven stages are:
- Marking procedural rules and guidance (CPR, CrimPR)
- Instructional reading (textbook chapter, revision guide)
- Making notes
- Answering class questions
- Comparing first attempts with model answers
- Flashcards (memorisation and self-testing)
- Mock practice (SBA questions)
My Syllabus Spreadsheets for Civil and Criminal Litigation track your knowledge of each syllabus topics’ CPR reference across the seven stages in the study process.
In order to show how making notes can be simplified and less draining and confusing I will explain the different stages in my study process. I want to make clear where making notes fit within the overall study process because crucially, notes alone will not help you obtain a high score in the assessments.
Stage 1 – Marking procedural rules and guidance (CPR/CrimPR)
Remember that in the real world, Barristers do not have to instantly recall procedural rules. They adhere to them by making use of practical guidance and repeatedly applying procedure to their cases. Over time a Barrister may develop an encyclopedic knowledge of procedure in a particular court or general practice area but there is no shame in reaching for a practice manual when you are completing a piece of work.
During the Bar course assessments access to practitioner texts will be available to varying degrees. Recent changes to BSB examinations indicate that Student Barristers will have some access to practitioner texts during their centrally set assessments. This could however be a false friend if you have not taken the time to intimately acquaint yourself with your practitioner texts.
Reading and marking the procedural rules and guidance for later reference is an essential stage in your learning process. You cannot avoid the practitioner text – it is the ultimate source of information that you will rely upon. There is no substitute for reading each and every procedural reference and contextualising that information yourself.
If you would like an aid to enable you to track your progress through the procedural rules try my Syllabus Spreadsheets. For a free workshop on how to effectively use the White Book, head to my YouTube channel.
Stage 2 – Instructional reading (textbook chapter, revision guide)
It is always going to be helpful to have some form of instructional document that will guide you through a particular topic within the syllabus. There are many different types of documents that you can consult including the chapter of a textbook or a revision guide. Watch this video on five books that I used during the Bar Course if you would like to see the instructional texts that I consulted.
The important thing to remember with textbook chapters is that whilst they are very helpful to get a detailed understanding of topics, they are not always concise and may not be helpful when you are attempting questions and need to quickly recall information.
Textbooks can be very useful when you highlight them and use page tabs to indicate particularly important information. For example, for Civil Advocacy it was practical for me to have references to clear explanations in my textbook so that I would always have a clear couple of sentences that I can use to jolt my brain and uncomplicate a complex procedural process such as Part 36.
Stage 3 – Making notes
I receive many questions about how to make stage three more constructive and effective. Student barristers can tend to spend ages preparing their notes and a critically small percentage of their time having a go at deploying their procedural knowledge to practical scenarios.
A trap that a lot of Student Barristers can fall into is copying their textbooks verbatim which is inefficient and ineffective note-taking because it will not help you develop practical knowledge, it is only going to help you write the textbook verbatim.
Your notes need to serve as road maps to help you arrive at the correct answer in the assessment. A worksheet or mindmap is going to help you far more than a wall of text that you have barely engaged with because you typed them out verbatim. There are some helpful tips you can draw from in my post on advice and resources for Reading Week on the Bar Course, including on diagrammatic note taking.
Visual aids are extremely effective for some learners and it is worthwhile seeing if possessing flowcharts and mind maps are more useful tools when trying to learn the detailed procedural rules with multiple contingent stages.
Stage 4 – Answering class questions
This stage should be completed prior to preparing for classes. Again, it does not matter if your knowledge is vague (or feels that way). It is a great feeling to get even one question right but more importantly, you have the benefit of peer learning to draw from as you attempt these questions before and during the class. Sharing feedback and understanding the logical pathways your peers develop to understand and apply the material is priceless interaction on the Bar Course. Make notes on every question and these could later become your revision materials.
Stage 5 – Comparing first attempts with model answers
During or after your classes you should compare your answers with the model answers supplied by your Law School. It is important to understand why you got any questions wrong and consolidate the information which enabled you to get questions right. Do this stage regularly and make sure you have a complete record of your questions and answers throughout the year.
Stage 6 – Flashcards (memorisation and self-testing)
I am a big advocate of using flashcards as part of your study process and have discussed them many times on the blog and in videos. Flashcards allow you to repeatedly test your knowledge of procedure through memory exercises. I recommend Quizlet as a platform to help you study. I will be releasing flashcards soon, so please check my online store if you would like to buy pre-prepared flashcards for Civil and Criminal Litigation.
Stage 7 – Mock practice (SBA questions)
I want to stress the importance of actually having a go when you are on the Bar Course. It will feel uncomfortable and a bit strange to attempt to answer questions when you think that your knowledge of civil or criminal procedure is vague. I can guarantee that your confidence in your ability to tackle questions will only grow after repeatedly trying to answer them and learning from your mistakes. Making notes is only one stage in the process which enables you to be in a position to do this and improve your knowledge of court procedure and guidance.
Good luck and I hope this post is helpful as you make your notes on the Bar Course.
Until next time,