I’m six weeks into the GDL and I’ve just had reading week and my first coursework deadline. Read on to see how I’m getting on, how I found writing my first ever law essay and for details on my efforts to stay on top of the massive workload.
Reading week = sleep week?
In my last blog post I was awaiting the start of reading week and the chance to consolidate all of the content I’d learned over the first four weeks. What actually happened was that I slept, a lot. I had completely under estimated just how tired I was. I was waking up exhausted and going to sleep exhausted. I wanted to use the week to go over everything but I found myself literally falling asleep at my desk. It was a sign from my body that I had to seriously take some time for myself and relax. In the end I spent the first few days of the week in bed watching really informative YouTube videos that covered the key concepts that I’d covered during the first month of the course and making colourful revision posters (there’s only so much black and white text a girl can read before she goes insane). For some of the videos I found most useful, head to Marcus Cleaver’s YouTube channel here. I also caught up on my neglected applications, sent off my scholarship application to Inner Temple and updated my ‘Future Chambers Hit List’ (more on that in another post.)
Reading week was also when I started work on my first law essay for Equity and Trusts.
Writing my first law essay – What exactly am I supposed to be writing?!
Writing my first law essay was an eye opening experience. I have written countless essays before as part of my History degree but I was really nervous writing this essay. I wasn’t 100% sure how to approach it. It also didn’t help that the topic was ‘certainty of object’ and I’d missed that lecture when I was in the hospital for a whole week back in October.
I can’t reflect on how well I actually did (that will come when I get my result back in about three weeks time) but I can say that it was really strange writing about law as opposed to say, the Ottoman Empire or Caribbean history. I approached it as an opportunity to show I understood the law and tried to show I was aware of the issues that arose out of specific areas of law. Reading judgments was weird, especially because they can vary from being concise to long and rambling with a bunch of archaic language being used and a tendency to drop in random Latin phrases.
Nonetheless, it was my first chance to synthesise what I’ve been learning into a coherent answer to a problem question and I was glad that I had nice clear notes to refer to when breaking down the question and how I would tackle it. My colour-coded study system helped me identify where I had to provide definitions and explanation of points of law, the authorities I needed to rely upon to make my points as well as any important comments in judgments that clarified particular rules or principles.
I have another deadline later this month and I can take another stab at writing a law essay. Luckily none of these coursework submissions count towards my final grade, but that doesn’t mean I’m not trying my best. When the time comes for references for Pupillage applications my tutors will need to refer to my work to give a proper description of me – so I’m really trying to sound as close to someone who knows what they are talking about as possible.
Staying on top of the GDL workload Pt. 1 – Blessing’s patented study tips
The GDL is such a massive onslaught of information that you can really feel overwhelmed. I’ve had some questions from readers about how best to remember cases on the GDL and the answer is…I actually don’t know yet. Unhelpful, I know, but I have it on good authority that the GDL is a marathon not a sprint and your memory will grow over time. So long as you write a brief summary of each case and understand their relationship to different principles/points of law then you’ll be fine.
As I mentioned earlier I have a pretty solid note-taking system that worked out well for me when I was writing my essay last week. Here are some pictures of what my notes look like:
So as you can see I use a lot of colour when I make notes. Strictly speaking my system goes like this:
Blue: Authorities, examples of principles (either an example from a specific case or a hypothetical example), statutes.
Red: Strict rules of law.
Pink: Concepts and principles that require definition whenever they appear. This is important for coursework/exam questions. If it’s pink I have to know exactly what it means and provide a definition on-demand.
Green: Comments by judges, secondary opinion from academics.
Purple: My own thoughts. This would be the critical analysis I would bring up in an essay question. I also pose questions to myself in purple that I will bring up later in a tutorial; things like “what relevance does this principle have to X?’
I also use OneNote to write up all of my notes. In the last picture you can see how I’ve sorted my different modules into ‘tabs’ and then I have different sections for each lecture and sub-sections for tutorials. It’s also searchable, so I can search for something I wrote and it will find the section or sub-section within which it’s written. This is really helpful for when I am trying to recall something quickly.
This method of note-taking is helpful for me because I can remember things better when I associate it with a colour. Considering how much there is to learn on the GDL, it helps me to break it all down and make it easier to digest.
Staying on top of the GDL workload Pt. 2 – Failure to prepare is preparing to fail…MAKE LISTS AND STICK TO THEM!
I really, really, really love making lists. And on the GDL I found making lists to be a great way of having a visual representation of everything you need to do and being able to change the order of prioritisation based on different levels of urgency for each task. Plus it’s really satisfying to cross it off.
In my case I order my lists like this:
The most important items are the things I need to do in order to be prepared for upcoming tutorials or assessments. I like to write out exactly what needs to be read for each tutorial before getting started so I have a clear picture of what I need to do. Following those are the items that I need to do because I really didn’t understand what was going on. For example, I was so confused in my last EU Law lecture on ‘Direct Effect’ that I wasn’t able to follow the lecture and made a note in my list to go back over that lecture when I had time. After this come the things I’d like to do but aren’t urgent. This tends to be things like make some flash cards for a particular subject or make a revision poster or a glossary of key terms. These are things that if they aren’t done now will be done over the Christmas break when I revise the first term’s content – I just like to get a head start if I can.
I rearrange my to-do list as things come up and my order of priorities change. But it’s important to have the list so you can have a physical representation of all the things you need to do.
Give yourself time to live a normal human life. I mean it, see your friends, spend time with your family – just do something else other than just study!
I know the course is intense, I know you want to get the best marks possible but please be kind to yourself. Spending time with people who aren’t on the GDL, who don’t want to become barristers and who just care about you and want to see you laugh and be happy is essential. I had a really bad week last week and felt so behind because I hadn’t been able to cover every single piece of content I’d wanted to. I had also made the critical mistake of comparing myself to other people on the course. I was crying in my bed and branding myself a complete failure when my boyfriend gently reminded me that from what he was seeing I was working extremely hard and he felt super proud of me. Spending time with my family over the weekend and going to see the Lion King was also a great reality check. They were so excited to come up to see me in London and were super proud of me too. If I didn’t have that I really would have continued to struggle. I owe my ability to stay sane to my friends and my family.
Just don’t be too hard on yourself and take it all bit by bit
I know the GDL is hard, I know it’s a lot of work and I know you have a lot to juggle at once, but you also need to prioritise yourself. Taking care of yourself and managing your wellbeing is so important. Make sure you incorporate days for self-care into your week and don’t be hard on yourself. You’re exactly where you need to be and you’re doing great. Be proud of yourself and if in doubt speak to your mum or any other person who loves you and ask them if they are proud of you – I guarantee they are! For the record, I call my mum for a pep-talk at least three times a week.
Anyway, the struggle continues and my next blog post will come towards the end of the term as things are winding up for Christmas.