STS Exam Study Tips: First Year Subjects

Your first exams at law school can be incredibly nerve-wracking and stressful, but fear not! We’ve compiled some study tips from your STS tutors to help you feel a bit more prepared to tackle them. 

Scroll down to see advice for Obligations, Torts and Principles of Public Law. 


Image courtesy of Australian Contract Law

STS Tutor: Michael Gotze 

What are some general tips you have for preparing for and taking this exam?

I think the best way to prepare for the Obligations exam is to have a really good set of notes that you have crafted yourself and you have practiced navigating in exam conditions. There can be a significant time pressure for students during the Obligations exam and so having run through a couple of practice exams ahead of time with your notes is really helpful.

I would suggest doing at least one practice exam (not to time) and at least one practice exam to time in preparation. Try to have the practice exam that you do to time in exam conditions (printed notes, no searching online etc.) and have it be a new exam which you haven’t seen prior, as this will best reflect your experience during the exam.

In terms of taking the exam, I would recommend spending at least 30 minutes at the start of the exam noting down a rough plan for the answers to your question and issue spotting. For example, you might note down that Q1 raises a possible promissory estoppel claim, and that the elements of knowledge and detrimental reliance look to be the most contentious issues on the facts. This will help you organize things in your mind for when you start writing your answer.

If you see something and you’re not exactly sure how to approach it – don’t panic! Work through the rest of the questions that you have a good sense of first and the answer to the difficult question might come to you throughout the exam. If you’re completely lost on what to write for a particular question, you might want to try running through the question briefly in your head from the perspective of all major topics (MDC, Contract Formation, Estoppel, Restitution) which might help you at least rule out some ideas that aren’t going to be worth arguing. Make sure you write at least something even if you’re not sure if it’s the right approach!

As there is an essay topic this year for Obligations, I would also recommend completing one or two sample essays ahead of the exam.

How should I prepare for this exam specifically now that it’s in person?

With the Obligations exam being in person, there are two lost resources for students – the control F feature on your electronic notes, and the copy and paste feature. For electronic exams, many students found that synthesizing a rule or general structure of

general structure of an answer ahead of time was a great way to prepare as they could import their ‘rule’ part of IRAC straight into the exam (e.g. the six elements of promissory estoppel already formulated with their authorities).

You may still wish to take this approach – and just transcribe the various rules that you will have to cite during your exam. I certainly find this to be the best way for me to help combat the time-pressure as I am not having to synthesise the rules during the exam. An example for Obligations might look like:

“In order for a contract to be formed, the four elements of contract formation must be satisfied… The second element, consideration, requires the satisfaction of both the benefit/detriment requirement (authority) and the bargain/exchange requirement (authority)… The benefit/detriment requirement stipulates that … (authority). The bargain/exchange requirement stipulates that … (authority).”

While you would not be able to copy and paste the above into your exam, you can transcribe it, and many students (including myself) find this to be the best way to structure notes, topic by topic, with all of the relevant rules.

You might want to follow these rules up with specific case notes, including important facts and conclusions from the various judgments. Obligations is a very facts-heavy subject, and often close factual distinctions or analogies with the cases you have read and the question you are answering will set you up for success in the exam. For example, you may have a clause in a contract that looks very similar to the clause in issue in the case of Godecke v Kirwan. If you can correctly identify that the clause is similar, but different in a certain way, and highlight the significance of that difference, you will demonstrate a very strong understanding of the course content. For this reason, for Obligations specifically, having relatively detailed case notes in your exam notes will serve you well.

I would recommend structuring your hard copy notes with an index or a table of contents so you can quickly jump to the page you’ll need in the exam. I would separate them by substantive topic (Misleading or deceptive conduct, contract formation (including privity and formalities), estoppel and restitution). Considering there is an essay component, I would also recommend having a separate essay part of your notes with quotes from any relevant articles or cases that you think might assist you when you’re answering the essay question. The practice essays that I mentioned in Q1 could also be included at the end of your notes, in case you get a similar topic on the exam, as it would be of good use to help structure your argument.

If I’m behind on content, what should I focus on/prioritise? 

As I mentioned in Q2, to do very well in Obligations it is best to have a strong knowledge of the specifics of the cases. However, it is more important to have a base understanding of the principles of law and their application. If you are behind on content I would recommend understanding the principles, their authorities, and how they apply in practice first. If a close reading of the cases isn’t possible, prioritise having a general understanding of all topics.

If you miss a few factual distinctions or analogies it won’t be the end of the world, but if you have a very strong understanding of two of the four substantive topics, but no understanding of the other two, it will be difficult to answer some of the questions in the exam, especially if it is particularly geared towards only 2-3 of these topics.

Any extra tips or tricks? 

One of the most effective study methods I found was collaborating with other students and talking through exam questions or topics. You really get a strong sense of what you know well and what you don’t know well when you attempt to explain it to someone else verbally. This will help you identify areas you might need to spend a bit more time on.

For example, you might want to look at a hypothetical question with a friend and instead of reading through each other’s answers, you might want to just have a conversation about what issues you thought were relevant, which cases you thought might be worth including in the answer, and which parts you thought to be the most contentious. It is always helpful to get multiple perspectives.


Image courtesy of Sir Larry Gibbs Legal Heritage Centre

Tutor: Edie McAsey

What are some general tips you have for preparing for and taking this exam?

Time pressure is typically a huge factor in the Torts exam, so I’d definitely advise prioritising some timed practice. Even if you’re only able to do one or two questions to time and not multiple full exams (which can be tiring and if you’re like me, anxiety inducing), the most important thing will be to get a sense of the pace you should be working at. Writing out a full answer that flows (especially a complete negligence analysis) is very different to issue spotting/planning the tutorial questions, so make sure you get at least a bit of practice!

If worst comes to worst, just pick a single question from past exams to do to time – work out the time allocation by figuring out the percentage of total exam marks that the question is worth, and allocating yourself the equivalent percentage of writing time (plus the equivalent percentage of reading time – just to read – if you’re not issue spotting the whole exam) to attempt the question. I hate maths so I find this online percentage calculator really helpful:

If you haven’t written out a full answer for some of the tutorial problems, another option (that can be helpful if you’re not feeling too confident yet!) is to ask your tutor how many marks they think that question would be worth in an exam, and use the above method to calculate the time and attempt the question. You might want to consider giving yourself a bit less time if you’ve already been to the class where the question has been discussed, but I totally understand if you’re feeling vulnerable and need to be gentle on yourself. Take the full time to start with, and work up to a proper blind timed practice question.

Practice planning/issue spotting multiple exams to time and discuss them in a study group. I would say this is by far the most effective way to figure out any gaps in your knowledge – you can’t possibly spot all the issues/possible case comparisons/possible arguments alone, so share your thoughts and get more bang for your buck!

How should I prepare for this exam specifically now that it’s in person? 

Given that I haven’t taken any of my exams in person yet, I’m not sure how helpful I can be here! However, what I will say is there’s no point having gorgeous, perfectly formatted notes if they’re too long to quickly navigate in an exam, or if you spend so much time working on them that you don’t get a chance to practice using them in printed form before you sit the exam.

A full negligence analysis is looong and there’s a lot to cover, so I definitely found having a checklist of prompts/memory triggers for each step helpful. I’ve uploaded an example up until the breach stage in my week 7 folder, and I’ll upload a full example once we’ve covered the rest of the negligence content.

So much of the meaty analysis in torts is factual – you want to be analogising and distinguishing between the facts you’re given and the facts in the cases as deeply as possible, but you’re unlikely to be able to navigate long case notes or lengthy passages from judgments in an in-person exam. Try to distill decisive facts from cases into dot-pointed lists that relate to each issue. E.g: 

Negligence Calculus – s 48(2)

  1. Probability of harm materializing if care were not taken
    1. Has the risk been materialized before? Did the D have special knowledge about the risk?
      1. Dederer (L/NB): No incidents in past 40 years; popular diving bridge 
      2. Bujdoso (H/B): Guards had special knowledge that prisoner was an especially vulnerable target 
      3. Graham (L/NB): Only second contamination in 100 years 

Don’t neglect the legislation! It’s definitely worth having the full Wrongs Act provisions you’ve been assigned in your notes rather than summaries, as you want to make sure you’re not glossing over essential considerations in the statute.

If I’m behind on content, what should I focus on/prioritise? 

Torts is tricky, as the negligence analysis is all so intertwined and there will likely be at least one big question where you have to address every stage of the problem from start to finish. In light of this, don’t panic if you’re not across every single case (there are so many!), but try to make sure you understand the key questions to ask yourself at each stage of the analysis, and the correct way to frame the inquiry.

An example I often give relates to salient features. Try to make sure you understand the essence of each of the features. Knowing that vulnerability relates to the inability of persons of the plaintiff’s class to protect themselves from negligence on the part of person’s of the defendant’s class, rather than any of their individual subjective features (e.g. in Godfrey, the plaintiff’s pregnancy was not relevant), is going to be more helpful in keeping you on the right track than knowing every single duty case back to front. This is because you’ll know how to use the cases that you do know properly.

I’m a huge fan of passive study for catching up when you’re feeling overwhelmed by content! Try to watch/rewatch any online lectures or the STS on your commute, while cooking, or doing some other chill activity if you’re feeling anxious and struggling to sit down and try to catch up on a backlog of content. This could also go for cases/textbook reading if you download a free screen-reader!

Any extra tips or tricks? 

As I’ve mentioned in my videos, if you totally cook the timing in your exam and end up having to dot point some of your response, don’t panic! You will never be able to get the full suite of marks available, but your tutors are interested in your analysis – it’s infinitely better to have something on the page than nothing at all!

Huge admission, but I had to dot point the whole 10 mark damages question, part of the essay (!!) and part of my vicarious liability analysis in my exam, and I was still super happy with my mark. Pleeeasse still do timed practice, I wish I did more, but if time is running low in the exam, just try to stay cool and do the best you can.

Please reach out with any questions, and good luck!

Principles of Public Law 

Image courtesy of Council on Foreign Relations

STS tutor: Fabiana Mazza-Carson 

What are some general exam tips you have for preparing for and taking this exam? 

My first exam tip would be to get super familiar with the judges’ reasoning in the cases you have been assigned. In PPL we have a lot less judgements to know than we do in Torts, for example, and that is indicative of the expectation that we will have a deeper understanding of how the judges come to the ratios that they do. 

My second tip would be to practice statutory interpretation. This is a key skill that often gets overlooked but is very necessary to succeeding in this subject. 

How should I prepare for the exam specifically now that it is in person? 

I would recommend creating in-depth judgment tables, with the judges comments on one side of the table, and then key phrases on the other side so that when you are looking for the relevant reasoning to apply to your argument, you can easily locate the passage you need.

If I am behind on content, what should I prioritise? 

I would recommend, again, just trying to read through the cases and prioritising getting a solid understanding of them! Focus on the domestic law portion of the course and try and put together some hypothetical structures to answer questions about that content.

Any extra tips or tricks? 

In your essay, remember to make an argument and sustain that argument! Try to avoid falling in the middle of the fence. Your tutors will be looking for you to make a point that proves you have engaged with the readings you have been assigned.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s