By Jayne Kelly, EAGLE Facilitator
With special thanks to Dr Olivia Barr, Subject Coordinator for Property. She generously reviewed the draft of this advice and supplemented it with additional tips.
Property Law is a private law subject which builds upon your understanding and skills learnt in Obligations, Principles of Public Law and Contract Law. Most students find the concepts in this subject challenging.
Here are some of my tips to survive and thrive in Property Law.
Preparing for class:
Pen and paper:
When reading cases have a pen and paper handy to sketch out the facts. Some of the facts in the Property Law cases are a bit tricky, and it can help to draw out how people relate to one another, or how an asset has moved hands.
When listening to lectures have a pen and paper handy to draw out how concepts link to one another. I found this particularly helpful when learning about priorities disputes.
Try and explain concepts to someone else:
Try and explain the concepts or cases to a friend or family member (this includes a pet). This can be helpful to consolidate your own learning and recognise where gaps in your understanding lay.
Prioritise class activities:
Class activities are always the last thing on your ‘to-do list’ and are often left to be read during class time. I highly recommend prioritising the Property Law class activities as they force you to actively think about some of those tricky concepts. I always dedicated the 30 minutes before class to read the activities and at least do a dot point plan.
I also recommend forcing yourself to do a few entire written responses to a class activity hypothetical. This enables you to both actively engage with the content, but also practice your hypothetical writing skills. Win-win!
Note: If you do write an entire response, consider asking your teacher if they have the time to read it and to give you some feedback. If they do, great! Don’t forget to go back and incorporate corrections and/or re-write your answer after receiving feedback!
Engage as much as possible:
Don’t be afraid to ask if something doesn’t make sense (chances are most students are thinking the same thing!). Clarifying your understanding of content throughout the semester will alleviate your stress towards exam time.
While teachers prefer you to ask questions in class, you can also ask outside of class. Just remember your teachers are busy so many of them prefer you to ask just before/after class or during a break.
Note: all teachers have their own preferences and availability. Be sure to check with your teacher at the start of the semester what is the best method of asking them a question outside of class time.
Writing your notes:
Don’t be afraid to write your notes in a way that makes sense to you. I encourage you to adopt the ‘legal language’ that is used by your teachers. However, underneath that, feel free to have a note for your own understanding.
For example: ‘Lecture notes: Bert’s interest (subsequent unregistered equitable mortgage) took priority over Ernie’s interest (prior unregistered fee simple) because Ernie engaged in ‘arming’ or ‘postponing conduct’.
‘My own notes: Bert won; Ernie signed a note that he received all the money.’
Revisit class activities:
Come back to class hypotheticals straight after class and ensure you understand how your teachers got to the answer. This can take just a few minutes and can make a big difference. If something still doesn’t quite make sense, ask your teacher any remaining questions (be specific!).
Know what the assessment looks like:
This advice applies to all subjects. Knowing what your assessment looks like helps you to understand what information you need to be absorbing. For example:
- Is there an essay in the exam? – i.e. Do I need to be thinking more broadly about themes throughout the Semester?
- What is the interim assessment?
- Is the take-home exam a 3-hour exam or a 3-day exam? – i.e. Do I need to be able to refer to statutory material in 5 seconds or in 5 minutes?
The multiple-choice interim is not something to stress about if you have kept up to date with your readings, attended class, and engaged in class discussions. Some of my tips are:
- Work out how many minutes per question and move on once you have hit the time limit for a question.
- Have a piece of paper in front of you with the numbers 1 through to 20. Mark or highlight a question if you want to come back to it, time permitting.
- Use that piece of paper to ‘map out’ or ‘sketch’ the scenarios for mini-hypotheticals. This will help you keep track of who (people), what (transactions) and when (time).
- If in doubt, use a process of elimination.
Preparing for the exam essay:
The Property Law exam has for the past few years taken a similar format of one or two compulsory hypotheticals and the choice of an essay question. This means you will have to write an essay in your Property Law exam. My tips to preparing for the exam essay are:
- During the semester ensure you are doing your set readings and including key quotes (from articles) and judgments (from cases) in your notes.
- Keeping in mind any major changes to the subject, during SWOTVAC I recommend going back through all previous exams and grouping the essay topics into key themes. For example, ‘native title’, ‘volunteers’, ‘indefeasibility’ etc. However, there has been a MAJOR change to the course, so the themes aren’t necessarily the same. The best advice (and we will say this for every subject), make sure you work with your own notes as they will be current and the best resource.
- Get together with 2-3 peers from Property Law and have an essay topic planning session. Perhaps aim to plan at least 1 essay topic from each theme.
- Individually write at least 1 essay topic from each theme.
- But DON’T circulate copies of your drafts or notes – if more than one person copies and pastes those same notes into an exam answer, that is considered collusion and plagiarism.
Case table for hypotheticals:
Hypotheticals for Property Law are nothing new. You have already been doing this in other subjects, including Obligations and Contract Law.
Follow the process you are taught in Property. Your teachers demonstrate their methods each week in tutorials and every time they walk you through a hypothetical problem. For example:
- Always spot the RP. Who has legal title?
- For each person ask yourself two questions: (1) What is their property interest? (eg. mortgage, easement, life estate etc) (2) How is it created? (e.g. law or equity?)
- Then once you’ve done that, look out for any conflicts or disputes. Identify the appropriate priority rule and apply.
Something I did find useful for Property Law is having a summary case table with all the cases. This was helpful during the exam to quickly recall the ratio or facts of a case without having to flick through my long notes.
A summary case table could look something like this:
|Case Name||Key Facts||Issue & Outcome||Key Quotes|
|Bob v Bill
|Bella v Blaire
That’s all my tips for success, all the best for your Property Law studies!