Legal Studies Guide To The Option Essays

So in the final HSC Legal Studies exam, half of all your marks are going to come from the two “options” essays so it’s really important that you’re able to structure your responses effectively.

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

It’s always good to start your essays by clearly responding to the question and stating what your particular argument will be.

All Legal Studies questions are essentially derivatives of the same basic question, in making you respond to whether a particular area of law has been effective or not.

So if the question asked is “to what extent has law reform assisted in achieving world order?”, the best way to begin is simply to state “To a large extent/to some extent/to a small extent, law reform has played an important role…”.

Similarly, if the question asks you to “Assess the effectiveness”, it’s good to immediately start with something like “The law has only been somewhat effective” or “The law has been largely effective” or “The law has had only minimal effectiveness”. By starting with a clear articulation of what your opinion will be, you’ll be able to ensure your essay flows and retains a consistent argument.

It’s probably worth noting that you’ll rarely be straight out arguing that a particular area of law has been completely effective or completely ineffective. You want to always consider both sides of the argument and in any case you don’t need necessarily to come to a concrete conclusion. Nevertheless, if you really do want to argue that the specific area of law has been a complete success or an irredeemable failure, make sure you are able to sustain this argument throughout your response, consistently referring back to your over-arching point and to the question as well.

You should also avoid merely writing about issues or concerns which are referred to in the textbook. There’s only really one major Legal Studies textbook in the whole state, so chances are whatever specific case you refer to will also have been done to death by many, many other students. It’s well worth the effort to do your own additional research and write about current or topical events, since it shows markers you’ve gone beyond merely regurgitating what was in the textbook.

The easiest way to structure Legal Studies essays is by thinking of the idea of “pros and cons”.

For example, take this question from the World Order option:

“Assess the effectiveness of the United Nations in promoting and maintaining world order”.

Basically, you can interpret this question as asking you to consider the “pros and cons” of the United Nations in relation to world order. Then you should use specific case studies/events/issues/responses in order to illustrate either successes or failures.

For example, for this question you could write a paragraph about the Syrian conflict to show how the UN often fails to take substantial action due to veto powers (a “con”), and another paragraph on the East Timor conflict to show how the United Nations can often intervene to achieve peaceful results (a “pro”).

You can also write about some kind of specific legal instrument generally and give judgments as to its effectiveness. For example, if you were to write about the International Court of Justice you could talk about the fact that the court allows interstate conflicts to be considered in an organised court (a pro), but that the court has no powers of enforcement (a con). If you have this kind of “pro and con” structure in the back of your mind when you write a response, you’ll ensure you can holistically consider all aspects of a question and cover a broad range of ideas and viewpoints in your writing.

One thing which the HSC Marker’s Notes frequently refer to is the fact that many essays are clearly pre-prepared and do not adequately answer the question. In truth, having a prepared set of issues which you’ll refer to is a really helpful thing in this subject, so when you write your essay the most important thing to remember is to start off by emphatically answering the question and ensuring you refer to the specific directive terms of the question throughout your response in order to hide the fact you’re using pre-prepared material.

For the example above, it would be important to make sure you specifically refer to the ideas of “promoting and maintaining” in the question. This could be done very easily by incorporating it into what you were planning to write anyway — for the International Court of Justice example above, you could write that the fact that the court hears cases but has no enforcement powers shows that the UN is effective in promoting “but not maintaining” World Order.

Another issue which the HSC Marker’s notes also mention is that students tend to write too descriptively about particular legal measures, almost to the point of giving a history lesson.

Certainly, you should always begin each of your paragraphs with one or two sentences in which you introduce the particular issue/case study, which should include stating what its origins were, including relevant legislation and other legal terminology — think of this as the “background information”. But you want to, as quickly as possible, move onto analysis or evaluation of the issue, making clear why it is important in relation to the ideas of the question and utilising the structure outlined above. As usual, remember to make reference to specific legislation, newspaper reports and statistics where applicable. Ultimately, the best way to think of it is that your marks will come from making judgments and evaluations, rather than simply describing “what happened”.

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

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