Friday 28 April 2017

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Revision Cards

Law Students in particular, but many students in general, have a tradition of using "revision cards" to assist in the final stages of revision. Of course they are even more useful the earlier they are prepared.

Case cards are a particularly useful tool for law students. It's useful to have a VERY brief outline of the facts and key legal points established by a particular leading case. (A word of warning - volume  is the enemy of the student who wishes to be effective - don't do too many cases, concentrate on the cases that you are likely to need for the exam - a thousand case cards looks impressive, but may not concentrate the mind! Similarly, don't try and write as much as you possibly can - in the smallest writing. Condensing the information is the key to successful recall)

One of my students introduced me to "Quizlet" an internet based tool for creating cards; revising & testing oneself; and sharing with colleagues. [a 'Spaced Repetition' tool - there's a good article about them, and why they work  at https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/23/spaced-repetition-a-hack-to-make-your-brain-store-information.]  He, and some other Open University students collaborated in developing some revision cards which they then shared and tested each other on. I strongly commend such activities - it makes learning more fun & discussion can (and does) arise which enhances every participants understanding of the subject matter.

Revision cards are useful not just for learning cases - but definitions, or quotations, for dates & translated words. I've started using them for my own leisure and professional use. Quizlet allows you to make your own cards - and if you choose, to share them with everyone - or with a defined group of colleagues. It also allows you to find existing card sets.

So if you are taking an exam in 2017 - make your resolution to improve your results by using revision cards. The ones you make yourself are the most useful (because you are forced to condense information - a key to successful memory). Using cards made by others can be useful, but less effective (I for example found on Quizlet a set of cards, each of which has the name; state and photograph of a member of the current US Senate - and use it to improve my recall of faces (not my strongest point) and linking Senators to their States.)

If you want to try Quizlet out - go to http://quizlet.com/

Monday 24 April 2017

The Washminster Blog during April, May & Early June

The pace of posts may drop in the coming few weeks. There's a General Election on in the UK - and that means I have less time to research and post, and to comment on events here in the UK, France, the EU and the USA

 - but do subscribe, or return occasionally - 

I hope to get some posts published in the weeks ahead.

For students facing exams (particularly on the Open University's W201 course - but I also have advice and information that may be useful, for law and political science students, as well as anyone facing exams) - I will be continuing to post on revision topics.

My "Washminster" posts are aimed at anyone interested in the workings of legislatures, politics generally - and have in the past covered specific elections - not to seek to encourage people to vote in a particular way. However my knowledge and experience comes from a rather long time being actively involved in British, European and US politics.

So if you want to see what happens in elections, and can put up with my partisanship - then you are welcome to follow me on:

 FACEBOOK : https://www.facebook.com/jdavidmorgan

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Jdm_progressive

Unlike the 2001 and 2005 General Elections, or the 2009 European Parliament Elections - and various local government elections - I will not be standing as a candidate myself.

I will however be encouraging all progressives to back pro-EU candidates standing in parliamentary constituencies where they have the best chance of defeating the Conservative hard or passive Brexit supporters (which I think is everyone but Kenneth Clarke).

A guide to voting effectively can be found here - https://www.tactical2017.com - the spreadsheet is based on is available here.


It can be very useful to look at old exam papers (OU Law Students can access these through 'Elite') - but even more useful to take a look at examiners reports. These often highlight common mistakes that have arisen. If you read a few reports you'll see that the same issues frequently turn up.

One comment I'd like to stress appeared one year (though it is a perennial) - "Some students in fact forgot to apply the law to the facts at all, and simply listed cases; although these were usually relevant ... it was very important...to apply the rules and principles as well as setting them out." 

Cases are important - especially in English Law where precedent plays a key role - but there can be a tendency to fixate on memorising case names and facts. I've known students who have sought to memorise over a hundred cases. (to which I say, how many cases can you discuss in a three hour exam in which up to an hour can profitably be spent choosing the best questions to answer; planning the answers; writing them; and reviewing them?)

Use cases to illustrate a point you are making; to support your argument; to demonstrate different approaches to the issue - but never just recite cases and their facts. 

How should you "revise" cases?

The first task is to select the cases that you plan to revise. As you revise each topic, think about which cases are most important. Clues can also be found elsewhere - what has the manual; textbook; tutor stressed most? (My students will be familiar with me banging on about ...)

[W201] Entick v Carrington; Ghaidan v Godin-Mendoza; Campbell v MGN; Carltona v Commissioner of Works; Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury; The GCHQ case (Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service); Porter v Magill; R v Ghosh; R v R (Marital Rape); R v Cunningham; R v G (Recklessness)...

Prepare brief notes. Students, almost since "time immemorial", have used revision cards to prepare for exams. The value of these cards are that they require you to condense the information. This is a (the?) key process in revision - (there are some professionally written cards on sale - some value, but you lose the process of condensing yourself - similarly, copying out from a text or revision book has the same value-deficit). There is some value in reviewing the finished cards frequently.

Consider the application of cases. Cases should not be used as decoration. They are a vital part of legal argument. Consider where and how you would deploy these cases. This is where using old exam papers can come in useful.

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 (François 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.