STS Exam Study Tips: Second and Third Year Subjects

You’ve got a year or two of law school under your belt now, but that doesn’t mean exams are any less daunting! Thankfully, your STS tutors have provided some subject-specific tips and tricks for success which we’ve compiled down below. 

Scroll down for advice on Evidence & Proof, Administrative Law, Property and Remedies. 

Evidence & Proof 

Image courtesy of NSW Courts

Tutor: Melanie Williams 

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

It is a long exam and I know people are tempted to just focus wholly on it, but please give your body adequate nutrients and rest, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Do not try and stay up the whole time it’s very unhealthy and your mind needs rest to properly process things and produce quality work, remember to sleep, and prepare meals or grab groceries in advance if you can so that you can have easy nutrients on hand for the busy weekend ahead.

Your exam will likely be split into three tasks. Allocate your time between each task, do not spend all of your time creating a factual theory and ignore your proof or analysis of the laws sections.

(Editor’s note: Here we asked Melanie how to prepare for the exam now that it’s in-person, forgetting that Evidence & Proof will, in fact, not be in-person! Clearly the exam stress is getting to our heads too.) 

It may be relieving to hear that you won’t need an outline or a shortened version of notes like most other exams – you can use your substantive notes. You will have time to check your notes, instead of taking time to create an outline of notes focus on covering all content and understanding it so that you can identify certain pieces of evidence like hearsay, evidence or tendency evidence more easily to address the rules in the third part of your exam.

Practice working through a brief of evidence before your exam using the examples you’re given on Canvas. I know these seem very long but they’re actually great practice for some of the work you may do early on in your career if you go into a litigious practice area.

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

Practice creating a factual theory and practice making even a short proof ahead of the exam so you’re not tackling it for the first time in the exam setting.

Then make sure you have all of your rules of evidence on hand, focus on just broadly understanding these rather than memorizing them as you will have the wording of the provisions on hand. It’s more important that you understand what hearsay or admission evidence may look like so that you can pick it up in the exam, rather than memorizing the actual wording of the provisions, which are poorly written to be honest and need reform.

Any extra tips or tricks? 

Make a timeline as you go through your brief of evidence! Your evidence will not be presented in chronological order, and it is important to properly understand the sequence of events so that you can write your factual theory and proof. Please just jot down the times that specific things took place; this doesn’t have to be in a fancy format, I used a table in Microsoft word during my exam. It’s just so important for not getting the order of things mixed up so that you write an accurate theory.

Your teacher will probably choose an exam topic that has some red herring pieces of evidence that should stick out, take notes on these as you go through your brief so that you can mention them in your proof and analyse them in the third section. When making a list, include page numbers just for your own reference so it’s easy to find something if you want to go back and look at it.

Administrative Law 

Image courtesy of Perry and Rosenthal

Tutor: Jack Fagan 

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

Remember that you will be given the legislation a week before the exam. Study it front to back and try to write out your thoughts on the structure of the legislation and its purpose. Usually it will be a scheme where someone can apply for some type of statutory license, entitlement or accreditation. Why does this scheme exist? What is it designed to protect? In our exam, we had legislation on protection of cultural objects. The purpose of the legislation, from a close reading, was not just about protecting cultural objects for their own sake but also protecting them so that overseas lenders could be confident that they would not be subject to legal claims from the original owners of the cultural objects. 

The legislation might also contain some clues about which grounds of judicial review are likely to be raised. Look for a specific power of the Minister or public official to do something. Is that power broad and discretionary? Does it contain any jurisdictional facts? Does it set out the requirements of procedural fairness?

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

Make sure you know which grounds of review are where in your notes. It can be very challenging distinguishing between different grounds and deciding which ones to pursue in the exam so make sure your notes are well structured and easy to follow.

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

Administrative Law is a subject that rewards understanding the principles of the cases more so that knowing the facts of each. Ultimately, every ground of review requires statutory interpretation from first principles. As long as you understand the overall concept of each rule then you will benefit most from practising your statutory construction and reading parts of the cases where judges apply statutory interpretation techniques to novel scenarios. Try to mimic their approach and see what types of things they take into account: who is the decision-maker? Why do they have this discretion? How broad is the discretion? How has Parliament constrained their decision-making process?

Any extra tips or tricks? 

A lot of people in my year found this exam really difficult and did not feel like it went very well, myself included. You will definitely make mistakes and it will not go perfectly. Do your best to stay calm and keep working through the problem, often what you are writing exhibits much greater knowledge and understanding than you think it does. Godspeed!


Image courtesy of National Museum of Australia

Tutor: Paige Santelli

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

I recommend practicing as many practice exams from previous years as you can (timed) and then getting together with a study buddy afterwards to go over them. Keep it simple, and don’t distract yourself trying to make sense of things outside the scope of the class. Just focus on: What is the property? How was it created? What is the dispute, and how do I resolve it? 

I would also recommend trying hypos that compare a settler law property concept, like lease, mortgage, charge, etc, to a native title right or interest because last year our exam kept these hypos relatively separate, but I get the feeling they might want to try merging these hypos this year. I’m not sure why I have that feeling.

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

It’s hard to guide on this because this sem is also my first time taking exams in person, but I guess I would say to keep your hypo notes as short, basic, and step-by-step as you can, and then have a separate section with your more detailed case notes if you need to pull details from a specific case. I would also have a completely different set of essay notes, which is what I do in online exams anyway.

Probably try finalizing notes in a decent form (they do not need to be perfect) earlier rather than later so that you can print them, bind them, and practice exams at home flipping through your hardcopy notes. You don’t want to practice with online notes all of SWOTVAC and then just hope for the best during the in person exam. You want to practice under conditions as close to the ones you will be taking the exam under. That means no music while you practice, paper notes in a binder, only using paper and pen to plan during reading time, not getting up to go to the bathroom, no snacking, etc. 

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

Practicing exams. The old exams will show you a pattern in the types of questions asked and will show you that there are certain things you just don’t really need in your notes. I would focus on making notes centered around: What is the interest (list the tests for all the different types of property)? How was it created (list the equitable and statutory tests to create property)? What is the dispute and how is it resolved (list the tests for reg v reg, unreg v unreg, and unreg v reg)?

If you’re confident with hypos and stressed about essays, focus on essay content and practice. If you’re confident with writing essays on the spot, focus on hypo practice under time.

Any extra tips or tricks?

It’s a marathon, not a race. Each day in SWOTVAC you have to get up and study, and it’s very hard to stay motivated, so take it slow. Don’t study too much the night before the exam. Make sure you SLEEP during SWOTVAC and try to set a reasonable time each night that you are going to stop studying by (mine is usually around 6-7pm).

Get a study buddy who works and thinks similarly to you who you can practice exams with, ask stupid questions, and sit on Zoom for hours finalizing your notes with. I would be lost in this degree without my study buddy.


Image courtesy of Rule of Law Education Centre

Tutor: Cavan Fairall 

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

First, structure your notes by cause of action (ie. have separate sections for contractual breaches, tort, ACL and equity).  This will help you identify the issues quickly and then will give you a flow chart for analysing them.  

Second, when answering a hypothetical, try to identify all the possible losses at the start.  Just because some of the losses sound ridiculous and you know the plaintiff won’t be able to claim them, you should still identify them as potential claims.  You can then, over the course of your answer, explain whether the Court would actually award the damages and why.

Finally, there are a number of points throughout the course where there is uncertainty, differing approaches or discretion.  When, in the course of writing your answer, you reach one of these points, consider whether the differing approaches will lead to a material difference on the facts.  If they do lead to differing results, it is likely the examiners want you to grapple with that.  Explain why and perhaps even make a suggestion of which approach you think is likely to be preferred.

How should I prepare for this exam specifically now that it’s in person? Tips on structuring notes etc. 

Since you’ll have less time to plan, I think it’s important to have a way to issue spot quickly and navigate your notes efficiently.  I would recommend having a separate sheet of paper which provides an overview of the course and key cases for each section. If you know the material, most of the time you can just glance at that sheet rather than have to flick through your notes.

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

First, I would focus on the content which is most likely to come up in a hypothetical.  For example, I would spend less time on interlocutory injunctions than I would on final injunctions.  Interlocutory injunctions are issued during a proceeding so they’re less likely to come up in a hypothetical scenario when someone is coming to you for advice.  By contrast, I think rescission is quite likely to come up in an exam.

Second, a lot of what is spoken about in class (and which is most challenging) is the theoretical aspects of remedies (e.g. compensation, restitution, disgorgement, fusion fallacy) and the correctness and consistency of decisions.  However, for the purposes of a hypothetical, you won’t need a lot of this information as Australia has either chosen to adopt or reject a particular approach. Consequently, in a hypothetical, you can largely justify approaches based on precedent as opposed to merit, meaning you don’t need to understand all the theoretical debates. This will make the course A LOT quicker to learn.

Any extra tips or tricks? 

Keep your calm. Exams are a game of who can do the little things right like managing their time effectively and discussing the key issues.  If you focus on doing this, the rest takes care of itself.

Remember that hypotheticals aren’t just about the law – they’re also about the facts.  Take some time to properly apply the facts, reflecting on how different sides can use the facts to make favourable arguments and which should be preferred.  

Finally, headings and subheadings can be useful for helping keep answer structure.

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