Legal Studies Essay Guide
Due to the interest in my Modern History essay guide, I have decided to come up with one for Legal Studies. Most people will notice that it is similar to my modern one – that is because essays for both of these subjects are similar in style and approach.
In this example, I will use the practice question “How effective is the law in responding to problems in family relationships”
Never EVER write in first person - this is the cardinal sin of legal essay writing. Markers hate this and you will lose marks if you use first person.
Also, always use formal language and avoid colloquialisms and clichés. Whilst most people know this, some colloquialisms are difficult to pick up on. For example, the word “things” as in “Hence, these things demonstrate that....” is an example of colloquial language.
Pay careful attention to your grammar. Although it isn’t marked directly, good grammar adds to the clarity and readability of your response. Poor grammar on the other hand can prevent you from effectively conveying your ideas to the marker. If your response hasn’t been effectively communicated, then you will lose marks.
Don’t make your arguments emotional or personal. HSC markers have no emotions - they will not respond to bleeding heart essays. They respond to logical analysis supported by fact and legislation/cases/media reports (LCMR).
The holy grail of essay writing is balancing clarity and simplicity with a sophisticated argument. An argument which has great depth and complexity is much easier to understand if you write it clearly and in a well organised and structured manner. You don’t want the marker to have to read over your paragraphs a few times because your argument isn’t clear.
You should be aiming to write approximately 1,000 words (roughly 8 pages) for the options essays and about 600 words for the Crime response. These numbers aren’t absolute, but rather a ballpark figure. I would say that 750 words and 350 words are the respective limits for both these responses. Any shorter then this and the lack of quantity will reduce the quality of your response.
Don’t spend all your time on one section of the paper whilst neglecting the others. Some students devote all their time to one essay and not enough on the other. It is better to get 20/25 in all sections then to get 25/25 on one section and only 10/25 for the other. Also remember, it is easier to improve an essay from 10/25 to 20/25 then it is to go from 20/25 to 25/25.
Time management is essential with the Legal exam. You are required to write around 2,600 words in three hours plus answer a small series of multiple choice and short answer questions. You need to ensure that you are not spending too much time on any one section.
Answering the question
The most common mistake which legal students make when writing essays is that they don’t answer the question. When writing essays, many people merely give a description of how the legal system operates as opposed to critically evaluating it. By providing a description, you are unlikely to get above a band 4 as you are not answering the question. To quote from the 2011 Notes from the Legal marking centre “In weaker responses, candidates tended to make general statements and were very descriptive rather than analytical.”
In a Legal essay (and all essays for that matter) there isn’t a right or wrong argument. A marker cannot deduct marks from you because they disagree with your argument. What they are looking for is whether you develop a sustained and logical argument, supported by factual evidence and LCMRs.
At uni, I wrote an essay for criminal law and the marker dedicated a whole page in his comments to saying how much he disagreed with my argument. However, when giving me my marks he stated "Even though I vehemently disagree with your thesis, this is irrelevant for the purpose of determining your marks"
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