Exam preparation | Law

Exam preparation

Exams aren't fun. And unfortunately you will have to do more than a few of them over the years. But there are ways to lessen the pain, and that is by preparing well and giving yourself enough time to do so.

Indexing and preparation for exams

Legal study requires constant provision of authority or evidence for a proposition put forward. So it is important to be able to point to where things came from. For this reason it is useful to have  for each course:

  • a set of casebriefs – eg on cards or looseleaf or exercise book or a separate file on your computer  – which is separate from your lecture notes. They should be numbered. For exams you will still need paper so you need to be able to print out any files you use
  • your classnotes with pages numbered
  • ultimately, a summary of the course which cross-indexes the summary with the classnotes, the textbook, the cases and any other material. If you put this in question form this is particularly useful if you are using the MIRAT way of solving problems.

Eg: Was this an offer of  contract? (lecture notes pp5-10)

Ref to test for the rule to apply:  was the offer real or just a mere flourish? If it was just a mere flourish it is not an offer: Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball – (Casebrief No 6, Textbook p 35)

In this way when it comes to looking something up quickly for an open book exam or an assignment, you will be able to find your way around the material without difficulty.

Solving problems – using MIRAT

The MIRAT system is a useful way to begin doing legal problem-solving. MIRAT stands for the following:

Material facts



Application of rule to the facts

Tentative conclusion

Normally when one is given a problem question it will have a set of facts on which you are asked to advise. These facts will include the material facts, ie, the facts which are important in relation to the law. For example, consider the following extract:

Joanna Jones was driving on the Highway near Leichhardt in a red sports car with the hood open. She was accompanied by her friend Anna Ames. They were having an argument. Joanna Jones was wearing a Chanel scarf round her neck. Her car had recently been serviced at AAA Automotive Repairs.

Which of these facts is material will depend on the legal issue to be determined. For example, if the issue was a matter of criminal law concerning a fight between Joanna and Anna which took place in the car, where the car had been serviced was probably not a material fact. If the issue was whether a car accident had been caused by poor service then where the car was serviced would be significant and the fact that Joanna and Anna were arguing may not be.

At the same time, the legal issue to be determined will be suggested to you by the facts.

The legal issue you have to determine is the legal question a court would have to answer on these facts.

The rule will be the ratio decidendi (reason for the decision) of a case or a provision in a statute. Sometimes this will be a very obvious and well-established rule, eg a duty of care is owed by all drivers to other users of the road: Derrick v Cheung. At other times you may have to take the time to make an argument at this stage about what the rule should be, arguing on the basis of the direction of precedent, or that cases outside the jurisdiction should be followed for some reason etc. 

Application of the rule to the facts. This is a crucial part of  the process. Applying the rule to the facts is the only way to reach a conclusion about how to answer the issue question. If the rule can be stated as a test then you can apply that test to the facts.

You can then come to a tentative conclusion. This means you can arrive at a conclusion; however, the conclusion is generally tentative because you may be wrong and your conclusion might need to have an alternative considered. It is thus best to say something like ‘it is most likely that’...

Answering the question – multiple MIRATS

Most problem questions have multiple legal issues in them. There may be logical connections between these issues. For example, in a contract question there may be questions about formation of contract which require a number of issues to be answered, and only if all those can be answered in the affirmative will a contract be regarded as formed.  Thus each of the tentative conclusions needs to be connected together at the end to give a final answer to the problem question. Most problem questions require you to advise the client. This means you are advising them about their likelihood of success should they bring an action or if one is brought against them. It is vital to answer the question by considering this general advice as well as the answers to each specific legal issue.

Additional resources

There are some great resources out there from law students who have gone before you. Have a look at these sites for some great advice on preparing for and managing exam stress.

The Law Nerds

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UNSW Learning Centre