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How to pass year 12 legal studies

One of the more popular VCE subjects is legal studies, and it’s easy to see why. Legal studies examines the ways in which the law and the legal system serve people and their community, and helps students understand the workings of contemporary Australian society. The subject also helps develop the critical analysis skills needed to succeed in almost any career.

With over twenty years’ experience in teaching the subject, Helen Doherty and Deb Wilkins from Ringwood Secondary College are the perfect teachers to talk about passing year 12 legal studies. Oh, and they’ve both marked for VCAA, so they really know their stuff. Follow their six step roadmap, and you’ll be well on your way to passing year 12 legal studies.

Engage in class

Helen observes that ‘the first thing that students who do well in legal studies do, is engage in class. They’ll ask questions, they make connections to real life situations.’

Deb explains that the students ‘draw connections with what they’re learning and what is happening in society. The really engaged students ask questions, they follow twitter, and they seek to apply what they’ve learnt to a real-life setting.’

Helen says that ‘the students who have performed better in legal studies in the past, actively seek feedback. They’ll do extra questions, they’ll think about things that they can’t, or don’t understand, and they’ll try to address that.’

Or, as Deb explains it; ‘The students who end up doing well, are the ones who attempt a question, get feedback from their teacher and then have another go so they know what a solid answer looks like.’

Build your capability 

A key component of passing year 12 legal studies is building your capability, and a part of that is to know your content back to front.

‘Legal studies is a very precise subject, you need to know your content, and you need to know how to adequately structure your response. The students who perform better, dissect and understand what the question is actually asking. They’ll ask for clarification,’ Helen says.

To do this, it is important for students to be familiar with the key knowledge dot points that are listed in the study design. A handy tool is to learn acronyms to assist with recall.

Helen gives an example of an acronym around the reasons for a court hierarchy, ASAP, which stands for:

– Appeals
– Specialisation
– Administrative convenience
– Precedent

Deb explains that ‘it’s a clever rule for students, and something they can fall back on if they draw a blank. Just remember the acronym, which automatically assists in recalling content.’

Know your skills

It’s all well and good to know your content, but don’t let that hard work go to waste by not knowing the correct way to answer any question. You need to know the skills that are required, especially in legal studies where there are specific task words. This includes needing to know what’s meant by explain, discuss, evaluate, and outline.

Helen explains that the task words are designed to be specific. ‘If a question asks about evaluation, students need to explain the strengths, weaknesses, and the point of view. Now, if you don’t know the point of view, you won’t get full marks for the question.’

Understanding the difference between task words could be the difference between full marks or half marks for a question, so it’s a critical component of legal studies and something you should clarify with your teacher if you’re at all unsure.

'The students who perform better, dissect and understand what the question is actually asking.'

Helen Doherty,
Ringwood Secondary College

Structure your responses correctly

The next step is to structure your response so that you answer the question fully. Helen and Deb have created an easy six step process for you to follow:

1. Identify the task words, like describe, outline, or analyse.

2. Look for focus words which may limit or help refine your response, like ‘other than… method x’, ‘always… better.’

3. Determine how many parts there are to a question. Higher marked questions usually require students to answer multiple parts.

4. Use the layout of your question to structure your response. You should always start with the first part of the question posed.

5. Use the keywords from the question in your response. For example, ‘significance…’ or ‘difference’

6: Use paragraphs and signpost your response. For example, if asked to evaluate the jury system you should begin with something like; ‘One strength of the jury system is…’

One other critical step is related to short answer questions. Helen and Deb recommend using the SEE structure.

S – Make a statement

E – Explain that statement further

E – Provide an example to qualify your statement if at all possible.

Deb explains that these approaches help students to address the specific requirements of each question. ‘This is an efficient way to answer a question. If you’re asked for two strengths, use these structures, because some students will just continue to write and they won’t get any more marks for more than two.’

Revision

If you thought this article would mean that you don’t have to revise, sorry, but it’s an important study tool for all VCE subjects. However, that doesn’t mean it has to be boring.

Helen suggests creating a revision booklet that you can fill in as you complete a topic. You should use key words, colours, diagrams, and mindmaps.

‘We use visual diaries with lots of colours mixed with words, so no slabs of information. For example, for the structure of parliament, I get my students to draw a crown and two houses. If they get stuck, they can visualise that page and move on from there,’ Helen says.

As Deb explains, this helps students in their revision. ‘Our students are rapt because they’ve already undertaken  significant revision prior to the end of the year and it’s not completed on scrappy bits of paper!’

Another important part of passing year 12 legal studies is doing the past exams posted on the VCAA website, and reading the past examiners reports on recent legal studies exams. Remember to get your teacher’s feedback on how you went.

Deb explains that ‘On VCAA’s website you can get past exams under each study design. They are recent, and the examiners reports are vital as well. They tell you the mistakes students have made in the past, what they’re looking for now, and also give examples of good responses. They’re really quite specific,’ Deb explains.

Be social

‘We encourage students to read each other’s work and critique it. What could they add here? What could they remove? So, they’re actually becoming teachers. If you can teach, that means you can really understand the content,’ Helen says.

Deb explains that this is vital, ‘Students can’t do revision in isolation. Often the students who do really well are actually testing their knowledge and thinking with other students and not just teachers.’

Are you thinking about your options after Year 12? Check out our course and career search tool, Explore, to find some inspiration.

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