Guide To The Legal Studies Crime Essay

In the final Legal Studies exam, the most important part of the Crime section is undoubtedly the “15 marker” essay.

Post written by Wayne Kwok (13th in the state Legal Studies 2015). See all articles first and personally get in touch with our state rankers here

The Crime Multiple Choice questions are reasonably straightforward, so you want to make sure most of your preparation goes into ensuring you can form an effective essay response.

Whilst it’s true that the crime essay is worth relatively less compared to the other essays (which are worth 25 marks), it’s still important to be able to maximise your marks in this section. The best way to do this is to base your study specifically around what can be tested and what you might write.

Preparing for the essay

There’s no point memorising huge swathes of content in great detail since the question will only end up asking for a specific section of the syllabus.

Indeed, since 2011, the crime essay question has always specifically referred to one aspect of the syllabus. What this means is that for your preparation, the most effective thing to do is to plan out exactly what you’ll write for each of the major “headings” of the syllabus, as well as for the T&Cs.

If you sit down and maybe spend just a bit of time planning out what you would write if a particular dot-point was asked for in the essay, you’ll have basically covered all your bases and ensured you can effectively answer any question. You should note down perhaps three specific “issues” per heading which you would discuss, and each of those issues would have its own cases, issues, legislation or media reports which you would refer to.

For example, for the heading “sentencing and punishment”, my notes read:

Continued Sex Offender Detention: Crimes (Serious Sex Offenders) Act 2006 (NSW) incl. Kenneth Tillman, Attorney General v Quinn (2007), UNHCR response.
Mandatory sentencing: incl. Crimes Amendment (Assault and Intoxication) Act 2014 (NSW) and Crimes Amendment (Police Officer Murder) Act 2011 (NSW), with BOCSAR statistics
Alternative sentencing: Circle Sentencing and Restorative Justice effectiveness with BOCSAR statistics

You can do this through a mind map, or a table, or in a dot-point summary form like above.

Whatever way you do it, the most important thing is that you are able to memorise your prepared cases and material and be able easily recall them in the exam.

Also, remember when doing this to make sure you include certain issues or cases which your teacher has referred to before — since the syllabus is so extensive, teachers love it if you specifically refer to things which they are looking for.

Note that the questions in the HSC tend to combine one of the T&Cs (themes and challenges) with a specific dot-point, for example the 2013 question which combined the T&C of “discretion” with the dot-point on sentencing and punishment.

In these situations, it’s pretty easy to “adapt” your prepared cases for the sentencing and punishment dot-point to incorporate the idea of discretion, not unlike the way you might adapt a prepared essay in English.

And then, practice, practice, practice! Get used to writing your responses under timed conditions to certain questions (there are plenty on the internet to find, or you can even just write your own), and always try and get your practice essays reviewed by your teacher as well — after all, they’ll be marking your trials and assessments!

Of course this isn’t the only way to go about it — it’s perfectly possible to do well in the essay without being so specific like this. But for me personally, I found that this method was the most comprehensive way to make sure I went into the exam as confident as possible, and with this method of preparation, I got full marks for every crime essay I did throughout year 12, including in the HSC.

Writing the essay

As with all of legal studies, your marks will come not from simply describing WHAT a particular legal measure is, but rather, from providing some kind of evaluation of whether the measure has or hasn’t been effective.

Unlike other subjects, you don’t necessarily need to come to a concrete conclusion in this regard — it’s perfectly okay to come to an ambivalent conclusion after a discussion where you weigh up both the benefits and disadvantages of a particular legal measure.

Also, never spend too long describing what a particular legal issue is — for example, if you’re writing about bail, there’s no need to go very in-depth into what bail involves or what the conditions are to receive it etc.

It’s more important to go straight onto exploring and discussing the effectiveness of the measure. Moreover, it’s always good to use statistics from the BOCSAR in order to support the points you’re making about effectiveness, and there are heaps of BOCSAR reports to choose from.

You can also use news/media articles to highlight community reactions or responses to a particular legal measure, which can again be a measure of effectiveness.

Additionally, you should always try and choose legal issues which are in some way contentious or controversial, as this allows you to write more about them and also provide some kind of analytical discussion. For example, rather than simply writing about police powers of arrest, you could specifically focus on the issue of police powers in relation to terror suspects or sex offenders, which allows you to bring in more specific cases and statistics which can make you stand out from everyone else.

Lengthwise, you should treat the essay as though it were a full 25-mark essay and accordingly you should be aiming to write 3 pages minimum. Of course, writing lots won’t guarantee you high marks, but equally there’s definitely no downside to writing more if you still have the time in the exam.

Post written by Wayne Kwok (13th in the state Legal Studies 2015)

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