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How to Improve Your Legal Studies Essays

The ability to write effective essays is an important skill for success in both Preliminary and HSC Legal Studies. In the HSC exam, Legal Studies students are expected to write three essays, one concerning the core topic Crime and the other two Option Topics selected by each school. Accounting for over half the marks a student can be awarded, by improving their Legal Studies essays students can see both their marks and class rank rise. Here are three simple ways you can improve your Legal Studies essays.

1. Limit the scope of the question in the introduction. Legal Studies essay questions are often very broad in scope. It would be impossible to cover every aspect of such a question in the recommended 40 minutes. Instead a student needs to acknowledge the scope of the question, then narrow the focus to four or five specific areas that will be covered in the essay. For example the 2011 HSC question ‘Explain the tension between community interests and individual rights and freedoms within the criminal justice system’ is immensely wide ranging. To answer this question, students should choose a couple of focus areas from The Criminal Investigation Process, the Criminal Trial Process, and the Sentencing and Punishment areas of the syllabus.

2. Include evidence to support your answer. Evidence in Legal Studies takes the form of laws, statistics, media articles and cases. Students should include at least one law and one other form of evidence in each body paragraph. When quoting laws it is expected that the student is able to name the law with its full title, the year it was passed and whether it is a State or Federal law. Students only abbreviate the titles of long laws after they have been written once in full with the abbreviation indicated in brackets. Regarding cases and media articles the parties or title is sufficient. If students are able to remember the year the case was heard or the article written, it is good to include this detail to prove cases and media articles are relevant. Media articles should only be included if they have been written in the past five years unless they are dealing with the immediate reception of a new or reformed law. If possible, statistics should be from the most recent year. Statistics should take the form of numbers rather than vague statements such as ‘fewer young offenders were given custodial sentences in 2014 than 2013’.

3. Write concise concluding sentences at the end of each body paragraph. Legal Studies essays always require students to make a judgement about a particular legal concept or area of law. Most students only include their judgement in the conclusion, but this is not enough to gain top marks in the marking criteria. A student should pass a judgement on some aspect of the law’s effectiveness, for example access to justice, achievement of justice for all parties or the influence of law reform. It is better if a student delineates which aspects of the law are ineffective rather than praising the law’s effectiveness. This judgement should be in the form of two or three sentences at the end of each body paragraph as a way of summing up the specific concepts covered in the paragraph.

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