From 2:2 to 1st

Passion is a key ingredient to the study and practice of law, and of life – Elle Woods

Earlier this week I received my overall degree classification and my final year module results. And well… the title says it all. I got a first. Very much feeling like Elle Woods right now despite perfectionist me trying to get me down because some people get higher firsts. Yes I need to learn to be easier on myself. I am mentally and physically unwell and a first is more than enough! But anyway, in light of the progress I have made throughout my degree I thought I’d discuss a little bit of my journey and give a few useful tips getting the undergraduate degree you deserve. This will be aimed at law students but a lot of it will apply to many disciplines.

So a came out of first year with a 2:2 – albeit a high one because my strengths lie in exams. And back in the day there was a huge difference between exam me and coursework me. Now that difference is only marginal – but still there. Exams are my strength. For some coursework is there strength. There are a few tips that arise from this point.

  1. If you know your better at coursework before going to uni select a uni that offers a lot of coursework for your course – I think for my uni it was 60/40 for my class. Which is quite high for a law degree. If exams are your strength then maybe select a more exam based.
  2. If you don’t have this luxury – which I know I didn’t, then find it in your first year and really play to it. Take exam based modules if you have the choice or if coursework is your strength, take coursework based modules.
  3. Work on closing that gap – ask your lecturers what they are looking for, what you need to improve. Read books around your course in the holidays and refer back during the year and make sure you are away of the mark scheme at your institution and what it asks of you.

In first year I was a very busy gal. Yes I worked hard with my degree and I wanted to do my best but I was also doing a lot of other things and dealing with some terrifying and debilitating health issues which I will not discuss because just thinking back to the levels of pelvic pain and myriad of other symptoms is too much.  In my first year I had two jobs, spent 6-15 hours a week doing drama related activities, debated, attended poetry society and catholic society. I did a short course in advocacy, spent maybe a little too much time in the pub, had movie nights with my friends and went to the gym 3-6 times a week.

I was for the first time ever truly living my life – maybe as a distraction from the worry about my fertility levels and also because I very much like to seize the day if the opportunity to do so arises. Hilariously, I also applied to switch to theatre and got accepted. I made pro and con lists and couldn’t decide. But the day before I had to make a decision the judgement on the Charlie Gard case was handed down and it captured me.

It was then that I knew.

I was going to persist with the study and hopefully one day, the practice of law. That is still the case. I’m planning on working for a year because I need a break and then going on to do the BPTC. I would also like to go into law academically at some point because, just like Elle Woods, I learnt to love law.

2nd year I started off trying to be as busy as I was in 1st year, despite my chronic fatigue having got worse over the summer and still very much being symptomatic with suspected endometriosis and dealing with fibromyalgia – which I think I developed towards the end of my first year.

I was on two committees, had a job, dabbled in model UN and the climbing society. I also walked to and from uni.  So it was no wonder that despite working really hard that in my first piece of coursework I only got a 53. (And it was trusts law which I really did not understand, didn’t even answer the question – as I realised once I got feedback.)

All the meanwhile I was getting progressively more ill so I cut back. I had my degree, my committee responsibilities, many GP appointments, transvaginal ultrasounds, gynaecology appointments and blood tests and that was about it.

And what happened? I took that feedback from the 53 and on the next piece of coursework (EU law) I got 73. And it wasn’t a fluke. I got 73 in my land coursework and 68 in my tort coursework.

Admittedly this was not all sunshine and rainbows. My mental health in 2nd year was appalling because of the pill I was on at the time. Cerazette I hate you. I started self harming again, attempted suicide. But hey atleast I got good grades.

Going into exams I was determined to keep this up. So me and my concentrate revision guides and Q&A’s got to work.

Just want to put a disclaimer here – do not rely on revision guides too heavily. They are useful to supplement your own work and  resources, to clarify areas you don’t understand and to improve exam technique. 

And my exam results were as follows

  • Tort: 74
  • Trusts: 77
  • Land: 76
  • EU: 69

Not too shabby at all and certainly more than I expected.

So after summer we go into third year. This year the workload was higher as we had a dissertation on top of the 4 modules. But we had choice over our modules and our dissertation topics.

Now I got really unwell with my ME/CFS and suspected POTS over summer so third year, gonna be honest. I only had my degree. But this is not be saying that you should have no life to do well. I was in a unique situation. Of being pretty much bedbound, and not very functional even in bed at the end of the summer but being too stubborn to take a year out. And I did have some life – just not as much of a life.

I spent time talking to my flat mates, had 7 theatre trips and other things happened.

But for the most part is was study, rest, attend medical appointments and apply for grad schemes (+ the interviews I had associated with that).

My health has honestly been a laughing matter this past year. I’ve managed to improve my ME/CFS drastically although I’m still probably on the mild/moderate borderline. My nausea is no where near as bad as it was in first term. But my joints are horrendous (Yay HSD), my fibro pain got a lot worse and I spent 2 months working my way up to the maximum dose of gabapentin. Which helps. But it made me really anxious and paranoid which I just deal with tbh, my mental health is still a lot better than it was in 2nd year.  Suspected endo and suspected POTS are much less of an issue but my skin is causing all sorts of issues.

But there we go. Life goes on.

I would say I learnt to love law in 2nd year but in my 3rd year I really developed that passion for law. Which I think can make everything more frustrating because suddenly it matters so much more. I absolutely chose the right modules.

It’s that passion that I believe really helped drive my success and allowed me to work the hours that I worked, despite so much going on health wise. It was no longer about just getting the grades because I need the grades. I was, for the first time, doing my degree for me and only me and because of that I wanted to do the best I possibly could.

In terms of revision it was a lot of recall, a lot of colour. I made PowerPoints for essay plans and colour coded problem answers. It was extra research where I felt it was needed or where I was just genuinely interested and it was tactical emails to lecturers, asking specific questions on things that were likely to be relevant to the exam that I needed clarifying. I asked about the structures expected of us and clarifications on the operation of specific parts of statute, sentencing guidelines and case law. It is also important to not underestimate the benefit of talking with your peer group about specific topics within your modules. And in relation to coursework lots of research and thinking. Thinking about the question, the wider context and the merits of the research itself. Again talking to your peers and getting people to proofread is helpful here.

So third year finishes and results are as follows

Coursework

  • Children and the Law: 73
  • Evidence: 73
  • Sentencing: 73

I was a consistent bunny.

Dissertation

  • 80

Exams

  • Children and the Law: 75
  • Evidence: 73
  • Sentencing: 75
  • Family: 86

I was a successful gal. In terms of academic achievement anyway. Not much else. But we have provisional job offers, we’re waiting to hear back from interviews and I’m meeting with someone about some volunteering on Monday.

I also want to note that I am not naturally intelligent and I really struggle with reading comprehension. I never expected these results and it was REALLY hard! Now I’ve finished discussing the journey I’ll end this post with useful tips and try and link a few useful resources.

  1. You need to peak at the right time! Third year is the most weighted year at most uni’s – don’t burn yourself out! Pace yourself. Take first year to get involved in all the things.
  2. If you don’t understand ask for help.
  3. Look after yourself. You won’t reach your full potential otherwise. This means trying to sleep atleast 7 hours a night, taking time to calm down. Go for a 10 minute run, do some yoga or pilates. Try to eat a balanced diet.
  4. Don’t become too isolated!
  5. Switch up your study space.
  6. Practice makes perfect.
  7. Extra research is a must – if you can go beyond the reading list that is even better – but you do not need to read everything on the reading list. If it says it’s optional, it means optional. Utilise them for coursework, seminar preparations  or when looking at specific exam questions.
  8. Attendance is key. Especially seminars but I also found it necessary to attend lectures as I focus more in a lecture than when just listening to the recording in bed.
  9. You do you. Comparison is the thief of joy. Please do not succumb to it. I know it is hard, I know law school is a breeding ground for comparison but you will save your self a lot of tears if you don’t succumb to it.
  10. Your lecturers will try to psych you out. Which makes sense. If you want to be a lawyer you need a thick skin. Be prepared!
  11. And finally, enjoy it!

Resources for law students:

And I am sure there are many other nuggets that you may find and I have found along the way. I just wanted to pinpoint the main and more universal resources.

Hope this was helpful and if anyone reading has useful tips and/or resources please share in the comments.

 

 

 

 

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