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  • Writer's pictureKath Hall

What to do if you get a disappointing mark or fail a law assessment

Updated: 3 days ago

One of the most challenging parts of law school—particularly in the early years—is getting a low mark or failing a law assessment. I know this feeling all too well. I failed my first Torts exam. Like most other law students, I was horrified and embarrassed because I had never failed an academic task before. I got really down on myself and wondered: What have I done wrong? Am I smart enough to be at law school? How do I out how to do well?

The big mistake I made was to think that my grade reflected my intelligence and my ability to study law. It didn’t. Instead, what that mark indicated was that I still had work to do to get on top of the subject matter and learn how to structure a law answer in an exam.

In other words, I needed to work on my skills at studying law—not my intelligence. Very few students fail a law assessment because they are not suited to studying at law school. Almost all of us fail because there is some skill or technique involved in studying, learning the law, or answering problem questions that we haven't yet mastered.

The key to dealing with this situation—indeed the only thing that will make a difference—is to get the right feedback on where you have gone wrong and how to improve your technique for writing law answers. No amount of negative thinking, procrastinating, or complaining to your friends about your mark will help you do better next time.

Unless it is clear to you exactly what you did wrong (and how to improve), the first thing to do is to make a time to talk to your lecturer or tutor and get more feedback. While the reason for your low mark may be obvious (for example, you didn’t complete all the questions in an exam), the written feedback on your paper is unlikely to contain the detail you need to really understand what to do differently next time.

Generally speaking, lecturers are happy to meet with students to discuss a poor mark or fail. If your poor performance was due to something beyond your control (such as illness, the death or illness of a family member, an accident, trauma, or another significant event) that affected your ability to study or complete your assessment, you may be eligible for supplementary assessment or a review of your mark.

Don’t delay in discussing this with your lecturer or student advisor, however, as there are usually strict time limits on when you can lodge such an application.

If you don’t feel you get enough feedback in this meeting on what you need to improve when answering law questions, don’t stop there. Reach out to a law tutor or the academic skills and learning center at your university. The sooner you work out what legal skills and techniques you need to improve, the better you will feel and the sooner you will see a change in your marks.

You can also reach out to us at Law School Success. We are committed to helping law students improve their marks by identifying where you fell down in assessment and what you can do differently in the future. And this sort of feedback really works. We understand the nuances of law school assessments and can offer targeted advice and strategies to help you succeed.

Consider forming study groups with your peers, too. Collaborating with fellow students can provide different perspectives on difficult topics and help you grasp complex concepts more effectively. Study groups also offer moral support, which is invaluable when you’re feeling discouraged.

Additionally, practice makes perfect. Regularly engaging with past exam papers and questions set for tutorial discussion can significantly enhance your problem-solving skills and time management during actual exams. The more you practice, the more confident you will become in applying legal principles and crafting well-structured answers under time constraints.

Remember, resilience is key. Every setback is an opportunity for growth and improvement. The legal profession is demanding, and the ability to learn from mistakes is crucial. Embrace the learning process, and don’t be afraid to seek help when needed. With determination, the right feedback, and a willingness to adapt your study techniques, you can overcome any academic hurdle in law school. Keep pushing forward, and trust that your hard work will pay off in the end.



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