Not sure whether or not you should take up Legal Studies in Year 11 and 12? Unsure of what the workload might look like? Or perhaps you’re doing HSC Legal Studies right now, and need some more guidance with how to structure your essay.
We have compiled this useful guide on some of the most frequently asked questions for Legal Studies and hopefully, it will be of use to you!
1. Is Legal Studies for me?
Are you interested in the Australian legal system and how the law influences the most vulnerable groups in society? Are you keen on lots of classroom discussions about legal issues? If so, then Legal Studies sounds like a very suitable subject for you! I personally found HSC Legal Studies to be an immensely rewarding subject, where I got to learn more about the most pressing issues facing our country. However, Legal Studies is definitely not everybody’s cup of tea. Like any HSC subject, it involves hard work. But hard work in the form of copious amounts of readings per week, a lot of writing (the most out of all HSC subjects) and intense memorisation. If you can’t take on stacks of readings and analytical writing, Legal Studies might not be for you.
Still unsure? There is no harm in picking Legal Studies – you can always choose to drop it if it is not for you. But who knows? It might even turn out to be your best subject!
2. How long should my essays be?
For the Crime essay, the Board of Studies recommends around 600 to 800 words (5-6 pages); and for the longer, 25-marker elective essays, around 1000 to 1200 words (8-10 pages) is recommended. These numbers are not absolute, but a rough estimate. However, I would say that writing anything less than what is recommended by the Board is Studies is a big risk. This is because it is very difficult to formulate a convincing argument with adequate substantiation and evidence within such a small word count.
In fact, many top HSC Legal Studies students completely disregard the word count range and go above and beyond of what is expected of them. Generally, they would write about 1000 words for the Crime essay, and 1800 words each for their 25-marker elective essays. I would highly recommend doing so as well. This might sound like a lot, but in doing so, they have added more depth and breadth to their arguments, thus composing a more logical and sustained essay.
The bottom line is: essays usually hover around 600-800 words for Crime and 1000-1200 for the 25-marker essays. Many high achieving HSC Legal Studies students go above the word count in order to add more analysis. However, it ultimately comes down to quality, rather than quantity.
3. How do I structure my essays?
The structure of any essay is imperative, but especially so when it comes to Legal Studies. You can have a beautifully crafted essay with up-to-date media articles, strong analysis, all the right legislation and a convincing argument. However, if your structure is poor, this alone can even be enough to push your essay down to a Band 5 level. Generally, the structure of a HSC Legal Studies essay is the same as for any English essay. The main distinction is that your quotes and techniques are replaced with legislation, cases and media reports! Other aspects of the structure that should be taken into account include:
- Thesis statement: directly answer the question and state your position, but remember you must be able to back it up throughout your essay
- If the question contains a quote or an extract, use it in the first sentence STRAIGHTAWAY
- State the reasons for your stance. This will usually be 3-4 reasons which will form the foundation for your body paragraphs
- Concluding sentence to very briefly sum up your introduction and pave the way for your next 3-4 arguments
I used the TEEEL method with my body paragraphs in HSC Legal Studies essays.
- T – Topic sentence: introduce your point and explicitly relate it to the question. Use the language of the question!
- E – Explain: explain your point with facts. Why are you taking this stance? For what reasons?
- E – Expand: expand and elaborate on your explanation with other supporting facts e.g. legal opinions
- E – Example: provide examples to support your explanation and elaboration. Use LCMs (Legislation, Cases, Media)
- L – Linking sentence
Sum up all of your arguments and how it relates to the question. You can do so by rephrasing your initial thesis statement! Make sure you DO NOT introduce anything new in the conclusion.
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4. Where can I find Band 6 responses/exemplars?
It is also worth asking your Legal Studies teacher if they have any exemplar essays from past students. They are there to help you, and they want to see you do well, so make the most of their assistance and advice! Besides your teacher, the Board of Studies has been compiling some Band 6 exemplar responses from the HSC exam into a workbook. They are available for purchase from the website, but many local libraries have bought them for their ‘HSC Resources’ section.
2015 HSC Legal Studies workbook
2014 HSC Legal Studies workbook
2013 HSC Legal Studies workbook
2012 HSC Legal Studies workbook
2011 HSC Legal Studies workbook
Board of Studies Legal Studies standards materials – a lot of these essays and responses are quite outdated, so instead of using them for their evidence, utilise them for their structure and use of language. Think to yourself: does their argument ‘flow’?
5. Do I need to watch the news everyday?
Although it is not required of you to watch the news everyday, I would certainly advise that you are at least reading news articles in order to keep up with issues relevant to your topic/s. Too often, students use out of date legislation from 5 years ago, when there has already been several updates. For example, you need to be aware of legislation surrounding bail laws in NSW. They have been amended over 80 times! I can assure you that the examiner will not be too pleased if you used the Bail Act 1978 (NSW) without mentioning the newer Bail Amendment Act 2014 (NSW)!
The same thing applies for cases. Try to flick through a few news websites once a day to check for any updates on possible cases you can use. The AustLII website is one of the most useful resources when I was studying HSC Legal Studies. A few of my favourite news companies that are always bookmarked include:
Notes from the HSC marking centre often suggest that the stronger responses integrate recent cases and documents throughout the response. So in saying that, make sure your evidence is all cutting edge. You might find that a lot of news articles can overlap and say the same thing. But it is still a great idea to read over all of them, as they are all written by different people with different experiences and life circumstances. This will enable you to gain a more well-rounded nuanced perspective on the issue, which will help in developing a sophisticated argument!
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Frances Tsorecently graduated from Sydney Girls High School in 2016 and is known among her friends as the crazy dog lady without a dog. With an avid interest in the dynamics of global change, she decided her HSC major work was not enough to quench her thirst as to how regional interactions impact political and cultural relationships. So, she has decided to study International Studies at UNSW, majoring in International Relations. In her spare time, Frances is either teaching violin, re-watching episodes of Friends for the twentieth time, or perfecting the art on how to be a dog aficionado.
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Due to the interest in my Modern History essay guide, I have decided to come up with one for Legal Studies. Most people will notice that it is similar to my modern one – that is because essays for both of these subjects are similar in style and approach.
As a general note, this guide is mainly designed for students who are struggling with essay writing. However, I have added a section with some advanced techniques for students who are looking to improve from a low band 6 to a high band 6.
In this example, I will use the practice question “How effective is the law in responding to problems in family relationships”
Never EVER write in first person - this is the cardinal sin of legal essay writing. Markers hate this and you will lose marks if you use first person.
Also, always use formal language and avoid colloquialisms and clichés. Whilst most people know this, some colloquialisms are difficult to pick up on. For example, the word “things” as in “Hence, these things demonstrate that....” is an example of colloquial language.
Pay careful attention to your grammar. Although it isn’t marked directly, good grammar adds to the clarity and readability of your response. Poor grammar on the other hand can prevent you from effectively conveying your ideas to the marker. If your response hasn’t been effectively communicated, then you will lose marks. As such, poor grammar can indirectly cost you marks.
Don’t make your arguments emotional or personal. HSC markers have no emotions - they will not respond to bleeding heart essays. They respond to logical analysis supported by fact and legislation/cases/media reports (LCMR).
The holy grail of essay writing is balancing clarity and simplicity with a sophisticated argument. An argument which has great depth and complexity is much easier to understand if you write it clearly and in a well organised and structured manner. You don’t want the marker to have to read over your paragraphs a few times because your argument isn’t clear.
With essays, practice makes perfect. Writing practice essays can greatly help improve your essay writing skills. In year 10, essay writing was my weakest area, but by the end of year 12 it was my strongest as I constantly wrote practice essays and had them marked by my teachers.
Whilst it may seem obvious, having them marked is of vital importance, as the feedback is what helps you identify areas in need of improvement. Writing an essay and not having it marked is near useless in my view.
You should be aiming to write approximately 1,000 words (roughly 8 pages) for the options essays and about 600 words for the Crime response. These numbers aren’t absolute, but rather a ballpark figure. I would say that 750 words and 350 words are the respective limits for both these responses. Any shorter then this and the lack of quantity will reduce the quality of your response.
Don’t spend all your time on one section of the paper whilst neglecting the others. Some students devote all their time to one essay and not enough on the other. It is better to get 20/25 in all sections then to get 25/25 on one section and only 10/25 for the other. Also remember, it is easier to improve an essay from 10/25 to 20/25 then it is to go from 20/25 to 25/25.
Time management is essential with the Legal exam. You are required to write around 2,600 words in three hours plus answer a small series of multiple choice and short answer questions. You need to ensure that you are not spending too much time on any one section.
Answering the question
The most common mistake which legal students make when writing essays is that they don’t answer the question. When writing essays, many people merely give a description of how the legal system operates as opposed to critically evaluating it. By providing a description, you are unlikely to get above a band 4 as you are not answering the question. To quote from the 2011 Notes from the Legal marking centre “In weaker responses, candidates tended to make general statements and were very descriptive rather than analytical.”
In a Legal essay (and all essays for that matter) there isn’t a right or wrong argument. A marker cannot deduct marks from you because they disagree with your argument. What they are looking for is whether you develop a sustained and logical argument, supported by factual evidence and LCMRs.
At uni, I wrote an essay for criminal law and the marker dedicated a whole page in his comments to saying how much he disagreed with my argument. However, when giving me my marks he stated "Even though I vehemently disagree with your thesis, this is irrelevant for the purpose of determining your marks"
Another important point is that you should NEVER take a pre-prepared or memorised essay into the exam. Unlike English or SOR, it’s near impossible to mold your essay to the exam question (unless the topics are very similar, which is unlikely). Even if your pre-prepared response is from the same syllabus point as a question on the exam, it will still be difficult to mold your response unless the questions are asking you to do virtually the same thing.
To quote from the 2009 Comments from the Legal Marking centre “Some candidates presented what seemed to be prepared responses that did not answer the question. Stronger responses referred directly to the question, quickly engaged with the complexities of the law and did not waste time with simplistic definitions.”
With legal and all essays in general, structure is extremely important. However, most students don’t use it at all. An essay with strong analysis and factual evidence will struggle to get a band 5 if it is poorly structured. Generally speaking, an essay should be structured like this:
You state what position you are taking in relation to the question (otherwise known as your thesis statement). For example “The legal system is highly effective at responding to problems within family relationships”
You also must state the reasons/points for your position. These points will form the basis for each section in the body of the essay. For example “The effectiveness of the law can clearly be seen in relation to its handling of familial problems such as divorce, domestic violence and child abuse”
In a legal essay on the HSC, you should aim to have around 3 to 4 points/reasons (5 is excessive, however if you can get enough detail in then it will probably benefit you).
In the body, you discuss in detail the reasons/points which support your argument. You devote each section (usually a single paragraph) of the body to dealing with ONE point/reason. For example, in the practice essay, you would dedicate one paragraph to divorce, domestic violence and child abuse.
Your paragraphs in the body of the essay should have topic/linking sentences. A topic sentence goes at the beginning of each paragraph when you are introducing a new point/reason. It should give the marker a preview of what you are going to discuss in that paragraph. For example “The Law is highly effective at addressing the issue of domestic violence”
Linking sentences on the other hand go at the end of a paragraph where you are concluding a point/reason. They need to link your ideas in a paragraph back to the question, for example “Hence, the enforceability of legal mechanisms aimed at addressing domestic violence emphasises the effectiveness of the law in this area.” You will notice that linking sentences are similar to topic sentences. That’s because a paragraph/section is meant to be somewhat circular in nature, as it begins and ends with one point which supports your argument.
These sentences are really easy to add to your essays, and can boost your marks significantly.
One good method of structuring internal body paragraphs is the PEEEL method. There are a few different variations of this method out there, but most are extremely similar. This is how it was taught to me:
P - Point (Topic sentence)
E - Explain (Explain your point with fact)
E - Elaborate (Elaborate on your facts to form an analysis)
E - Example (Provide an example to support your explanation and elaboration. Usually in Legal Studies, this is where you might use LCMR)
L - Link (Linking sentence)
It is important to note that this is just one method of structuring body paragraphs – you don’t have to use this method. Personally, I rarely ever used this technique, as I preferred a more free flowing design for my paragraphs. However, it is an excellent method to employ if you are struggling to put body paragraphs together, which is a common problem for many people.
In the conclusion, you sum up your argument. You restate your thesis and your points/reasons in order to show the marker that you have proved your argument.
It is important to note that no new ideas should be introduced at this point in your essay.
Legislation/Cases/Media reports (LCMR)
LCRM is an important aspect of any legal response. However, whilst many people incorporate them into their responses, they often fail to use them properly.
LCMR’s should primarily be used to provide SUPPORT for your analysis. Legislation and cases specifically can also be used to demonstrate a point of law (i.e. The case Williams v R (1986) states that a person cannot be arrested solely for the purposes of investigation).
When using LCMR, you need to clearly explain how they support your argument, as opposed to merely listing them (unless they are being used to demonstrate a point of law as above). Throwing LCMR into your essay won’t gain you any marks.
Furthermore, if you only describe LCMRs related to the question you will fail to score beyond a band 4, because you aren’t providing the markers with your own analysis. To quote again from the 2009 Notes from the legal marking centre “The better responses from both questions referred to a range of recent cases and reflected sound planning of their response rather than simply providing a description of various issues, examples, sources, acts and cases.”
To sum up, with LCMR, it’s all about how you use them to support your answer, not how many you can fit into the essay. In other words QUALITY NOT QUANTITY
Essentially, the crime response is a smaller version of the options essays. It should take roughly the same form (i.e. Introduction, Body and conclusion).
The Board of Studies recommends that this section be approximately 600 words (4 pages) in length.
The main point of difference between the options essays and the crime response is obviously the level of detail. In the crime response, you need to be very “to the point” and get to your answer quickly, in contrast to the options essays where you can analyse in more depth.
However, the crime response usually has a more narrow scope then the options essays, which means that you can afford to be more “to the point” in crime.
Again to quote from the 2011 Notes from the Legal marking centre “Candidates were able to access full marks within this four-page length. Candidates who wrote long responses ran the risk of lacking focus and not presenting a sustained, logical and cohesive response as required by the rubric.”
Advanced essay writing techniques
In order to access the higher marks (i.e. 23+/25); you need to show the markers a highly sophisticated and well sustained argument. In order to do this, there are a variety of techniques which can be employed. Two techniques which can be used will be discussed further below.
In my view, achieving a 24 or 25 in an essay is extremely difficult and requires a high level of proficiency in both the course content and essay writing.
As such, writing practice responses and having them marked is highly important in developing the level of proficiency needed to achieve these marks in an essay.
A counter argument refers to a technique where a writer includes and discusses evidence/opinions which disagree with their thesis and then shows why they are deficient or incorrect.
For example “According to the article “Divorce”, the law effectively addresses the issue of divorce because of X. However, this view is deficient because it fails to consider Y”. Obviously, this is a highly simplified example and you would probably need a little bit more detail in an essay.
The use of this technique adds a great deal of sophistication to an essay and can make your essays stand out to the markers. This is because it demonstrates that you have highly developed analytical skills and a strong understanding of the course, as you are able to identify flaws in certain arguments and counter them.
Thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis
This refers to a technique where two contradictory views are examined in detail. Following this, the writer will then suggest a new point which combines both these views.
For example “The case A vs. B demonstrates that the law is highly effective in relation to domestic violence due to enforceability. However, the article C shows that the law can be ineffective in this area due to a lack of accessibility. Henceforth, it can therefore be argued that the law is of mixed effectiveness in relation to the issue of domestic violence”. Again, this is a highly simplified example and you would need a far greater deal of sophistication in a real essay.
Similar to the use of counter-arguments, this technique can also make your essays stand out to a marker. This is because it demonstrates that you have a deep enough understanding of the course to be able to form your own view from two separate and distinct arguments.
If anyone has any questions about this guide, legal essay writing or the subject in general, please feel free to send me a PM or make a post in this thread (I'll try to check it regularly). Also, if anyone thinks that I've missed anything or wants to add something, feel free to post your suggestions.