How to Study Abstract Courses on the LLB Programme

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In most universities in Nigeria, the units allocated to each law course are equal, with the possible exception of Year 1 Legal Method and the final year Long Essay.

Nevertheless, all those who have passed through the system understand that this doesn’t imply that all law courses should be studied in the same manner. Some courses easily lend themselves to study; flipping through each page of the course material is like reading an Agatha Christie novel; you eagerly look forward to the next plot twist. Right now, that course would be Intellectual Property for me.

But on the other hand, some courses are simply abstract, or seem to be founded on general ideas. I’m talking of those courses that give you a flashback of your life while studying them. Whenever you summon up the courage to open the textbook, you might find yourself asking, “Why did I even choose to study Law? Who sent me? Will I even practice like this?” For this session, Law of Evidence is that course for me. It might be something else for the reader, but what matters is the feeling of vagueness it evokes for you while studying.

After an initial struggle, I’ve discovered some hacks to ease study of such courses, and will be sharing them in this article.

Create Content with your Course Material

Content creation is not something that should just be left to brands and digital media specialists. I’ve found content creation to be quite effective for studying courses that do not lend themselves easily to the eyes.

For instance, most of us have photo editing apps on our smartphones like Meme Generator, Textgram and the like. These apps can do more than just couch great jokes and express our feelings. They can also aid study. Take the case law principles and the definitions and reduce them to memes with an image background. Upload them on the internet if you feel like. Just make sure it is in a place you can constantly refer to. Anytime you think of that image, that case law principle will come to mind.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Denmark have confirmed this. Their research shows that learning methods that involve gestures and images are superior to those based on listening and reading. According to Katharina von Kriegstein, head of the study:

If for example we follow a new term with a gesture, we create additional input that facilitates the brain’s learning…in other words, to learn the Spanish word for apple, the subject should make an apple gesture, taste an apple or look at a picture of an apple”[1]

Get a Reading Partner

You can also get a reading partner to aid the study of those abstract courses. For the law of evidence, there have been times when I have stayed with the books for hours on end to no avail. I usually go to bed in frustration. But after a session with my reading partner who brings a new perspective to the topic, I go back to that topic with better understanding. This strategy helped me a lot in Labour Law and Criminal Law last session. What I remembered in the examination hall wasn’t what I studied, but our conversation around the topic.

A reading partner also makes you more accountable to your studies. Because you don’t want to meet your partner and have nothing to contribute, you will be pushed to study, even if it is just for the purpose of reporting it verbatim. That is why I earlier advised that it should be restricted to just 1 or 2 persons. Group discussions are more popular, but pose a difficulty in management. Usually, it is a few persons who do all the work, while others just listen and bring nothing to the table.

Watch movies, read non-academic books

This will definitely stand out as odd in an article that is supposed to give academic advice. Movies and non-academic books are some of the biggest competition for schoolwork in the life of an undergraduate. In a survey conducted amongst 1,265 American college students, it was found that students spend 7.72 hours weekly for academic reading, and 4.24 hours for extracurricular reading.[2] In another survey, it was found that US students spend an average of 10 hours weekly watching movies.[3] Back home in Nigeria, I and some friends have engaged in movie marathons spanning more than 24 hours. In light of all this, how then can movies and books aid academic study?

The key thing is not just to watch movies, but to watch the right kind of movies, and read the right books. Left to class attendance and textbooks, I did not understand what mens rea and actus rea meant to write an exam to save my life. It was until I watched the popular series, “How to Get Away with Murder”, and saw the practical application of these principles, that I understood them.

So also the law of evidence; to understand some its principles, I usually find a connection with what is in the textbook and a crime fiction novel I have read. I would particularly recommend Agatha Christie books, especially for students of Criminal Law and Law of Evidence. The plot twists in her novels bring to life many of the principles we are taught in class.

By associating a principle with a fictional character, anytime I think of that character, the principle comes to mind.

Conclusion

To sum it all, no course can really be described as abstract. It is only abstract to the extent that we have no experience associated with it. Get the right experiences in your mind, and from the abundance of your mind, your pen will flow.

 

[1] Learning with all the senses ­– Movements and images facilitate vocabulary learning, February 5, 2015. www.mpg.de/8934791/learning-senses-vocabulary

[2] “Reading Habits of College Students in the United States”, SuHua Huang, Matthew Capps, Jeff Blacklock & Mary Garza, pgs. 437-467, Journal of Reading Psychology, Volume 35, Issue 5, 2014 (www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02702711.2012.739593?src=recsys&journalCode=urpy20)

[3] “The Use of Time among College Students\ A US – China Comparison” Anna Shotsya, Macrothink Institute, International Journal of Education ISSN 1948-5476, 2015, Vol.7, No.1

 

Akintunde Ifeanyichukwu Agunbiade is a 400-Level student of the Faculty of  Law, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ife. He is a decorated public speaker, having represented his Faculty and the school in national debates, and winning the award for “Debater of  the Year”, from the Law Students’ Society, OAU, for the 2015/2016 Session. He is also a member of the Students’ Representative Council (Parliament of the Students’ Union), representing the Faculty of Law. He participated in the formation of the Tax Club, Intellectual Property Law Club, and the ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) Society. He also led the team that drafted the constitution of the Tax Club within 8 days.

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