ad astra per alia porci

how to get a first
July 12, 2008, 11:00 am
Filed under: Law | Tags: , ,

Personal notes from How to Get a First by Thomas Dixon

How to get a first

  • Understand the structure of your degree
  • Identify modes of assessment
  • Identify available resources
  • Become an expert user of libraries and the internet
  • Manage your time
  • Manage your teachers – understand their style of thought and obsessions
  • Understand the difference between primary and secondary material
  • Identify and master the most important primary source
  • Develop a strong voice of your own: have your own “line”
  • Listen actively in lectures
  • Use seminars and classes to experiment with your ideas
  • Read and take notes actively and selectively
  • Make use of journal articles and books that are not on your reading list
  • Leave time for thinking before you start writing
  • Produce an argument: not a book report or a shopping list
  • Pay close attention to the title of your essay or presentation
  • Remember that a presentation is a performance
  • Make distinctions; do not rest content with vague generalisations
  • Grab your listeners’ or readers’ attention with an arresting first paragraph
  • Identify the scholarly debate to which you are contributing
  • Choose your words carefully
  • Write in plain English
  • Master the scholarly apparatus of footnotes and bibliographies
  • Read new material when revising
  • Keep healthy and well rested when revising
  • In exams, remember you are trying to interest and persuade your reader
  • Even in exams you need to give examples and evidence
  • Don’t be boring!
  • What is rewarded above all in academic work is the ability to argue your own case with confidence and clarity – in other words, being able to persuade your reader of your point of view using your own words and carefully selected evidence

It boils down to: executional excellence and innovation.

Executional excellence involves doing the basics flawlessly. Innovation involves making original, unexpected and interesting points.

Writing essays

  • Have good handwriting
  • Pay close attention to the title while explaining the thrust of your argument – close engagement with the question
  • You must be able to answer the question: “what is the point in your essay?”
  • Define important terms
  • Strike a balance between your ideas and other people’s ideas, painting the big picture and showing knowledge of details, and giving a balanced overview and arguing for a point of view
  • Be clear, not simplistic – clear language is a product of strong understanding
  • Write in plain English
  • Maps and signposts – labels and numbers but not large numbers
  • MAKE DISTINCTIONS – being able to make subtle distinctions is an indication of mastery of material, as opposed to fudging the topic
  • SPECIFIC POINTS, not sweeping generalisations
  • Analysis and synthesis – strike a balance. Teachers value deep analysis and not mere generalisations.
  • Show evidence – you need to be able to quote sources
  • ANSWER THE QUESTION – do not regurgitate pre-prepared essays. Try to rearrange and mould prepared material to answer the question

What examiners want, in a nutshell

  • Don’t be boring!
  • Communicate, don’t regurgitate
  • Provide evidence
  • Write legibly
  • Write with confidence
  • If possible, find out who is marking your essay

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