Written by Jonathan Chee, JD Graduating Class 2020, EAGLE Facilitator

Doing PPL for the first time is like learning the answers to questions you haven’t been given. To make sense of the material, you’ll need to bear in mind the purpose each reading serves in the subject. Here I’ll be talking about my suggested approach to covering course readings, what to look out for in class discussions, and setting out your notes.

Making sense of your readings

It’s important to note that while each piece of legislation, case, and journal article in your materials has been included in your course for a reason, not everything within a reading is necessarily important, nor relevant. Before starting a reading, you should take note of what questions it is intended to help you answer. Thinking about the following should give you an indication of what to look for when reading;

  • What topic is the reading relevant to? (i.e. Responsible Government, treaties, standing …)
  • What learning outcomes within the topic is it relevant to?
  • What do the guiding questions in the reading guide ask? (guiding questions are usually designed to give students the key takeaways from a reading)
  • Is the reading a source of law (in which case you should focus on key legal rules, principles) or is it more academic in nature (in which case you should focus on the conceptual takeaways)?

Still unsure of what you were meant to get out of a reading? Ask your teacher in class!

If you’re struggling for time, consider doing some of your readings after the relevant lecture – hearing your teacher go through the material may give you a clearer indication of what’s important.

In class

The class discussion on a reading often gives away what its most relevant points are. This is because teachers tend to focus on its most relevant takeaways when going over a reading and facilitating discussion on it. By paying close attention to what questions are raised during the discussion, you may be able to work out why your lecturer assigned you that reading.

Going over hypotheticals in class can also help demystify how you will be examined on PPL material. In PPL it can feel difficult to prepare for hypotheticals. This may be because your subject is organized around conceptual topics and principles such that your hypothetical problems can cover issues from more than one topic. However, when you go over one in class, pay close attention to the following;

  • The steps your teacher goes through when answering a legal question – this is a good indication of how they expect students to structure their questions
  • The types of legal issues raised in the hypothetical – you can use this to inform your revision and to help you with preparing exam notes
  • The rules and sources they mention (If they cite a rule which sounds like it came out of nowhere, this could mean that you missed something. It might be a good idea to ask them what the legal basis for what they said is if unsure!) – this is also helpful in guiding revision and making exam notes

It’s also a good idea to give practice hypotheticals a go before class if you know one is going to be covered. This will give you an opportunity to test your understanding and approach to answering questions, as well as a chance to prepare questions to ask in class. Note;

  • Due to time constraints in exams, a huge part of what law exams entail is the execution – i.e. the act of writing a structured response within the time given as opposed to simply testing knowledge. The best way to get better at this is to practice throughout the semester!
  • Some say law school is like a networking event that goes on for 3 years. While I don’t necessarily encourage this mentality, your peers will greatly appreciate when you raise helpful questions in class.

Making notes

With PPL it’s important to always keep sight of the bigger picture when revising a topic and the material it includes. This means that whenever you cover an assigned reading, think about where it falls within the greater PPL puzzle. Therefore, when I was in first year, I did the following;

  • Started by mapping out all the topics in PPL, then organized my notes by topic
  • Made 3 types of notes;
    • Summaries of cases with a list of the legislation you may be examined on
      • Take notes of your personal critique or views on the materials where relevant. This may help in an essay or short answer question.
    • Checklists for addressing legal issues in hypotheticals (note that most hypos raise questions pertaining to a specific topic)
    • A document which outlines all the key concepts and principles of public law. This may draw on cases, legislation, and journal articles. I found it helpful to sort my principles/concepts by topic. This is especially helpful with essay questions.

Always remember to think about where everything falls within the subject to help you make sense of it. Hopefully this helps!

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