Tutorials. You might be wondering what that even means – I know I had no clue when I started university. When I did begin them I found them to be a source of high stress. Sleepless nights ensued – and not from late-night partying. But, they don’t have to be so daunting, and if done right, can be super enjoyable and interesting. You just need to figure out the tricks, so here are a few tips I’ve gathered from my first year of law.
1. You don’t have to read it all
The hand-out says read 100 pages, a 40-page article, and a 40-page case. So do the hand-outs for your other three tutorials and your freaking out – but don’t!
One of the first things you’ll learn about tutorials is not just that you don’t have to read everything, but that more often than not, you genuinely can’t. The cumulative amount of reading for all your tutorials, per week, is a lot, and balancing it with having a social life, giving yourself you time and taking care of yourself is next to near impossible. There are ways to manage all the reading, something I managed to do towards the latter part of my first year, but in achieving this I had to forgo a large chunk of my social life – my work-life balance tipped to around 80/20 – personally I’m content with this, but it’s not for everyone.
But as I said, you don’t actually have to read it all. A lot of the time you’ve covered the reading in your lectures, or something I noticed in the first year was that some of the lectures had been lifted straight out of the reading. The information and statistics were the same. Furthermore, if you understand something well, then leave it. You understand it and that’s fine. Focus on reading about the stuff you aren’t so sure off and read the rest if you have the time.
2. Skim Read
Also, in regards to reading, learn to skim read. This is an art in itself, and again, something that took me the good part of semester one to nail. It’s all about finding those keywords and statistics and really getting to the pure information in the text. What you’ll find, is that a lot of the time the reading is filled with academic jargon and that it will end up repeating a point. Learn to skim past all this and find the core info and cases – some textbooks are nicer than others, but being able to skim read is a great transferable skill, especially when it comes to reading cases. Speaking of, when reading cases, articles and journals, remember command-f is your friend. Search for key words or phrases and find your information quickly and easily.
3. Be Resourceful
Another part of succeeding at tutorials is being resourceful – going beyond the textbooks and lectures and using other sources to make your life a little bit easier. This doesn’t mean additional reading – in fact, in most cases, it means less. Take cases, for example. They’re long, confusing, filled with differing opinions and all you need is the ratio. Often, reading the cases can cause more headache and confusion, meaning that in reality you rarely actually need to read the whole case. There’s no point in putting yourself through that. So be resourceful – Google it! All you need to understand is the ratio, and soon enough you’ll find there are a select few websites that will give you this information in a much easier format. Swarb is a great one. It will give you a short rundown of the case and ratio in a simple, easy-to-understand paragraph, and the website has pretty much all UK and EU cases, making it my go to for ratios. Another close contender is E-law resource, but this one only really has landmark cases and is a little on the simple side, as it is geared for A-level law. For more on finding the Ratio, I have an upcoming article called ‘Ratio Ratio, wherefore art thou Ratio.’ to help you out.
Whether this is with your tutorial group, or the people around you, work with others. For me, I found a good group of like-minded friends and it worked out really well. We’d pull one each other and discuss tutorial questions when we didn’t understand something, and it turns out that two or three minds working on something delivers way better results that one. Someone else may have picked up on something else in the lecture or reading, that you didn’t, or may have interpreted or understood something in a different way. What’s more, is that you’ll usually find that when collaborating on tutorial prep, something you don’t understand, your friend understands really well and vica versa. Working with others is a surefire way to make sure you understand something really well, as well as consolidating your own knowledge, because I know that, for me, explaining something to someone else really helps to consolidate and cement that information into my brain. In collaborating with others, on your tutorial work, it’s almost a form of revision in itself.
5. Don’t understand? Don’t worry.
If you can’t answer a question, don’t worry about it. That’s the whole point of tutorials. To revise what you do understand and figure out what you don’t. It’s about revising the knowledge and figuring out where the gaps or lack of understanding exist, for yourself. If you can’t figure out the answer to something, don’t let it stress or freak you out – turning up to a tutorial with an empty answer is not a bad thing. As long as you’ve answered what you do understand, and you really tried to answer the questions you couldn’t, it’s okay. Everyone in your group will understand certain things better, and the point of tutorials is to pool and share that knowledge. Answer what you can, and don’t worry about what you can’t – the point of tutorials is to take that question and find your answer amongst your group and with your tutor.
6. Stay Ahead
For me, the best way to remove the crushing weight and stress of impending tutorials is to have them done – way in advance. Knowing I’ve got a tutorial next week, that I haven’t done, drives me crazy. It stresses me; I can’t think about anything else, and ironically it makes it harder for me to focus on the tutorial itself. So for me, I’ve found it best to be two weeks ahead. I make sure that all my tutorials are done two weeks in advance and there are a few advantages to this. The first is that the stress and pressure is gone. You know that you’re tutorials for the next two weeks are finished and answered, and that the ones left are still three weeks away – and you’re already working on them. The second bonus is that you get to revise the information an additional time. This is because you will need to read over your answers once before going to the tutorial, as having prepared it two weeks prior will mean that you don’t remember it. This means that by reading over it before going to your tutorial you’ve already revised the information once, and the actual tutorial is, in fact, your third time going over the information.
Having the work done two weeks in advance also means that there’s no rushing or late nights – which in turn means you will have a much better handle on your time. It means that you’ll actually be able to make plans and go places, which I seriously suggest you do – you’ll never have the spare time that uni gives you again, so make the most of it.