Friday, 21 April 2017

Mind Mapping

I've been a long term 'fan' of mind-mapping. I was first introduced to it as a teenager - and have found it very useful throughout my career, first as a student, then as an academic (and also for dealing with the masses of information I was using as a parliamentary candidate). As with any system - it is good to adapt to your own style and strengths. My problem is that I am useless at drawing (I know there are those who claim that anyone can be taught to draw, but is beyond me - I couldn't draw to save my life!). That has meant that I lost one of the advantages of mind-mapping - which is to use all the senses. My "mind-maps" were closer to "spidergrams" - sometimes I used colour - but essentially I used two dimensional diagrams, without drawings. However it has assisted me in studying; writing essays and preparing presentations and speeches. Most of all - it has helped when I prepared for exams.

Tony Buzan, a key developer and populariser of Mind Maps has gone hi-tech  Now I can do it on screen - I have MindMaps loaded on my home PC and on my iPad.

It may work for you - it may notEach of us has our own learning styleFor me it works - and works VERY well. I'm not good at remembering masses of information (and getting worse as I get older). But organising related information by drawing mind maps is a great help. I also find it an invaluable "thinking device".

Previously, I found them most useful for exam revision - thankfully I'm not facing any exams in the near future - but if you are - or you have a friend who is - then it's worth considering whether Mind Maps can help.

If you want further information - press here. It tells you something about the products available. 

But you can do them with pen (though pencil works best) and paper. The link is that you see the relationships between ideas. You can link key ideas in an argument by linking 'clouds' containing the key ideas together in a chain. You can develop different levels of mind maps - for example

* What is needed for a successful Judicial review claim;
* the elements of a specific offence (Actus Reus, Mens Rea and Defences);
* or the key facts of a particular case.

Why not try to list some topics you could prepare mind maps for?

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

What's the point of revision?

A question I often ask myself! Without it, one is less likely to demonstrate one's knowledge and skills to an examiner. But I want to take the answer to a more practical level.

Revision is about 'training for the exam' - being in 'top condition' for the challenge that the exam sets.  It's about having the key facts at one's fingertips. What are the appropriate legal rules to solve the problem? What are the key arguments around central ideas in the law? What are the key cases in a particular area? It is NOT about memorisation for the sake of memorisations - it is about marshalling the resources you will deploy in the exam room.

Answering exam questions is not about dumping a load of facts, cases and slogans on a piece of paper - it's about marshalling them TO ANSWER THE SPECIFIC QUESTION SET.

So you do need to be able to

- use key cases to advance and/or prove the argument you are making
- set out - and EVALUATE - key arguments (for example about the level of 'Separation of Powers in the UK Constitutional System' or 'balancing conflicting rights arising from the European Convention on Human Rights')
- solve key problems (for example, assess whether a certain set of facts could give rise to a successful Judicial review claim, or a prosecution for a particular offence.)

Single facts, or single cases, are not by themselves key to success - it is the relationships between them.

Rigidity is an enemy of success. I've read many an exam answer which is little more than the dumping of all the facts the student can remember about the subject. That is not the way to success. As stated above, success comes from being able to effectively deploy your knowledge and understanding to answering the specific questions set.

Revision is about
- identifying the key facts, arguments, rules and cases
- recognising the links between your areas of knowledge (it's much easier to remember if you linked your knowledge)
- becoming flexible about how you use your knowledge (so you answer the specific question set, not just dump pre-learned material in the answer book).
- becoming fluent in explaining concepts and making arguments.

I'll be exploring some of these ideas in forthcoming posts.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Exam Revision

Do you (or a friend) have exams coming up? Over the years Washminster has published a number of posts designed for exam preparation - with a particular (but not exclusive) emphasis on Undergraduate Law exams. For my (likely) final group of students on the Open University W201 Law - the Individual and the State course (Constitutional Law; Administrative Law; Human Rights Law; Criminal Law) - I will be re-publishing some of those posts. I will start with general principles and advice for revision - then move on to specific topics covered by the course.

Please do use yourself - (and) / or share this blog with students facing exams. The series starts next Wednesday.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Assessing the Achievements of the last Labour Government

It's almost an axiom that the faults of an individual are almost immediately identified, but it takes time to appreciate what they achieved.

The same is true of governments. Thatcher's administrations are more appreciated today than they were in November 1990. Gerald Ford's efforts to help the US recover after "Watergate" are seen more positively than they were at the time. Even LBJ - reviled as he was in the late 1960s and early 1970s - is seen to have accomplished more than Presidents people remembered more fondly.

A new pamphlet has been published - 20 years after Labour won the election in 1997 and entered government for 13 years.

It can be downloaded from here.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Who's Who in the EU?

You can sometimes wonder who is the President of the EU. Is it Donald Tusk (as some of the media seem to think)? Jean-Claude Juncker? Antonio Tajani? or Joseph Muscat?

In fact there is no such official title. All the above though ARE Presidents within the EU institutions.

Donald Tusk is the President of the European Council. He presides over meetings of the European Council, which is made up of the heads of national Executives (so, Theresa May for the UK, Angela Merkel for Germany, the various Prime Ministers, and Presidents where they are the head of the Executive branch (Fran├žois Hollande in France - but it can get complicated when there is 'cohabitation' with a President of the French Republic of one party and the Prime Minister represents the other party)). He will represent the EU abroad, as do the President of the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. (Federica Mogherini). The President serves for a two and a half term year, which is renewable once. Tusk's first term ends on 31st May this year, but he was re-elected to a second (and final) term last month.

Jean-Claude Juncker is the President of the European Commission. (To complicate matters he was the previous President of the European Council). This is the Executive of the EU. He is is responsible for allocating portfolios to members of the Commission and can reshuffle or dismiss them if needed. They determine the Commission's policy agenda and all the legislative proposals it produces. The President of the Commission serves a five-year term after being nominated by the European Council and formally elected by the European Parliament.

Antonio Tajani is the President of the European Parliament. He has recently succeeded (17th January 2017) Martin Schultz.  His job is to preside over the debates and activities of the European Parliament, and to represent it before both within the EU and internationally. In a sense he is the loose equivalent of the Speaker of the House of Commons. The President of the European Parliament has a renewable term of two and a half years.

Joseph Muscat is the President of the Council of the European Union. This used to be known as  the 'Council of Ministers'. He is from Malta (and is their current Prime Minister) which is responsible for the functioning of the Council of the European Union for the period January to June 2017.  The presidency (held by the country, rather than the individual) changes every six months - but the previous, current and next presidency co-operate closely. They are referred to as the 'trios'.

There are other bodies within the EU system that have Presidents - such as the Court of Justice of the European Union (Koen Lenaerts); the European Court of Auditors (Klaus-Heiner Lehne); the European Central Bank (Mario Draghi) - amongst others.