Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tripos exam schedule has been published


I knew that the exams will be on the last week of May and the first week of June but I didn't know when I will have which exams.  Now the mystery has been solved.  I have three in the first week and two on the second week.  It's more like I have I have 5 exams over 9 day period. 

To tell you the truth, I have been struggling.  What to do and where I am needed.  Where I can contribute the best.  I love law, I love social enterprises, I love tech start-ups. 

I am told every time that I can do anything that I set my heart to.  And right now, my heart should be set at law school studies and nothing else.  I knew this going in, so I should not be distracted.

It is not easy though being an unconventional student, who has lived so much more, has done so much more and just expect so much more from life.  My life is not just about law although right now it is the most important part of it.  My life is about me and the world that I belong to.  The people.  My talents and skills... how they can be utilised to better this place. 

I just stop being distracted.  I must focus.  I must do well.  Then I can think about other things.

Kay from Cambridge

Sunday, April 14, 2013

British University Grading System - No Easy A's here?

[image: I think the source is embedded on the photo but I found it on google]

ok that's something that I am not getting used to.  I don't quite understand.  Although I have a better idea than before... (thanks to Wikipedia, which is always helpful)...

One of few things I know now, is that it is very hard (although I have been told impossible but how is that impossible?  so very rough stats will follow) to get the first class honors in law in the UK.  Statistically, it is like only 6.some percent of the total law students get the first class honors.  In Cambridge, base on the past stats it seems about 10% for the first years and a bit higher for the second and third years.  This means that it is not impossible per se as the past stats do not show 0% of the Cambridge law students getting the first class. 

So... ok it is difficult but not impossible.

Definitely needed some adjustments in receiving grades, although they are not formal grades (As we don't get any formal grades until the end of the year).  I have received my essays back mainly achieving 60 something percents.  What? Sixty something???  Sure I have gotten some bad grades but 60's was never my regular grades.  More like 80's and 90's.  So... is it because I was smarter while I was in the American and Canadian university systems? Or was I just better in my engineering and business studies?  Or is the UK university system just that much stingier in grades?

I am not sure...

But I do feel that unless everything lines up - the moon and the stars and the sun and whatever else and I am perfectly prepared and I get lucky in some questions and I am healthy and feeling great on exam days and everything else... it would be a challenge for me to get the first class in my first year in the second year of law programme at Cambridge.  It does not mean that I am not targeting the first class (which is above 70% average) and I will be pretty happy with my 2.1 (the upper second class average - meaning between 60 and 69%).

So it's like this.

1. People are saying it is IMPOSSIBLE to get the first class --> which is a false statement because I have met people who received the first class in other universities or in other majors or etc.
2. Cambridge stat shows that about 10%-15% of law students get the first class (this is rough.. just going by my memory so don't quote me on this).  I have been in those top 10-15% at other schools. 
3. Is law just more difficult than other majors?
4. Are the UK unis less generous than American universities (for sure - I was at Cornell... I felt the undergrads there enjoyed the benefit of some grade inflation) and even the Canadian universities (UBC is known to be far from generous with the students' grades).

Are both Items 3 and 4 true?
If so, then maybe it is really impossible (and the people who get the first class honors are aliens from some special legally-minded land) for someone like me who is better skilled with numbers and business sense?

Well, I guess only time will tell.  I better hit the books to get my first class - at least to make a good attempt for it.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Studying Land Law - Textbooks and revision plan

To tell you the truth, my previous three degrees in two different majors (engineering and business), I bought many textbooks but never really read it.  Yup I am not ashamed to admit it.

I read here and there.  But never really read any.

But studying law is different.  I think having the textbook that fits the way you think and learn is very important.

I find learning the UK land law is like learning a new language and I know as an ESL (now I claim to be bilingual) how difficult it is.  When the first term started, in the lecture and in the supervision, I was recommended to get Gray and Gray: the Elements of Land Law.  Yes it is an alright book.  With 1000+ pages.  You can use it as a pillow.  To me, it was too long and too... indirect.  I would read a passage and would still be confused.  So I bought a case book by McFarlane but still it was too much.  And I found Land Law by Elizabeth Cooke in the library and started reading it.  It made it sense but it was for an introductory level - also very thin definitely not enough info is packed in.  And then I found Modern Land Law by Dixon.  And that is the book that I have been using for revision.  It's written in a clear manner and is well organised and it's not that big. 

I am sure the more you know, the better you will be in the exams but I think it is more important to know the foundations clear than just knowing many things at a superficial level.  I don't know but that's the strategy I am taking.

So for land law revision I am :

1. Reviewing class notes
2. Reviewing supervision notes and questions
3. Reviewing comments received on my essay submissions
4. Outlining the course
5. Building a list of all the cases that I need to know - mainly based on supervision sheets
6. Writing some flashcards for key cases and concepts
7. Topic diagrams / flowcharts

Yup it is a lot to do.  I better get on it.

Friday, April 12, 2013

What I wish I had known before starting my school - Note Taking

Frankly, it hasn't been a year.  Cambridge has a tri-term system and I am currently on the Easter break that comes after the second (Lent term).

No doubt it is difficult but there are a few random things that I wish I did better.

Note Taking
Obviously, you want to take good notes.  The best way you can.  This was one of more difficult things for me as I am not good at listening and writing / typing at the same time.  Thus, my notes sometimes appear that I have only caught 2/3 of the material.  You can always ask the lecturer for permission to record but frankly, I am not sure how many of those students have time to go back and listen to the recorded lectures.

So here is some tips:
1. pick a method and stick with it - obviously unless you try a few different methods, you won't know what you would like.  For me, I prefer typing (And so does 90% of my class).  Easy to modify later and insert comments and questions, highlight and change colors etc. 

2. know what today's topic is. - I don't know about other schools (and I assume it will be similar), the lecturer usually uploads on the faculty website the word version of the handout in advance.  I would spend some time, even if it is for a few min to read over and understand the structure.  Yup, I mean the structure.  Not necessarily the details of each case that will be lectured but what is the topic and subtopics.  One way to do it is to draw out a flow chart or a bubble diagram.  Or in a word document, you can use different heading levels.  It gives a good visual representation of the structure of each topic which can be later used for outlines during revision time. Yeah it is easier said than done as it takes time.  But for my final year, I am going to try anyhow.

3. Color code things - I know I haven't done this for a long time but it does help.  Because you will end up with hundreds of pages of notes and sometimes, you want to look for a case, or an applicable section of a statute or whatever.  First, for words, I leave the lecturer's original note in black.  And insert my note in blue, so it would be easier to spot what is right (the black part) and what has a possibility of being wrong (as I may not have understood the lecturer correctly).  Also I highlight my notes in different color.  I use yellow highlights for important bits, use green highlights for case names, and blue highlight for clauses of statutes.

My supervision notes are also color coded - original information remains in black, I insert my preparation notes in blue.  If I have another source on same topics, I use green to note that it is basically the same information but summarised in a different way possibly.  Also when I go into a supervision, and the supervisor allows use of laptop, then I insert my supervision notes in red.  I know it is complicated but I know now that it makes a difference as my earlier notes don't have a structured color coding system and it is not as easy to review notes as ones from later.

Also reading the textbooks, I use similar system.  Yellow for important texts, green for case names, blue for clauses of statutes, and orange for KEY CONCEPT WORDs. 

Ok I think that's enough for note taking.  I might have more thoughts on it later but for now I am good.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ongoing revision

I am currently in London staying with D and his family.  It is true that staying here is much nicer than my dorm room in Cambridge: the space is larger and brighter, I get fed (this is very important), and the office and the bedroom are separate (as studying and sleeping in the same room becomes too much sometimes).

I still feel like I am in a planning phase of revisions.  I started to revise tort, land, contract and constitutional: i.e. every paper except for international.  Somehow, I think I will be ok with most topics except for tort.  It is bizarre how most of my college mates find tort easiest yet it seems most difficult to me.

Anyways, there is much to plan / review / and study.  I am not sure how they figured out which topics to go on each syllabus for each paper.  It just seems that the amount of information the faculty envisioned for students to put in the brain after 8 wks of lectures is disproportionate.

However, I will not surrender.  I will conquer.  I will enjoy the study - well at least I will try.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lent term reports coming in

It's mid march.  Is it normal to be this cold and windy in Southern England this time of the year?
I am not really happy with the weather but there is not much I can do.  I am just glad that my big investment I made when I was back in Vancouver last December (I bought a nice Canada Goose Parka) has had a really good use out of it.  Although unfortunately, I got a white one - as they did not have any black one in stock, it is getting dirty at the edges.  But I guess the upside is, my friends here can spot me from milees away.  And I remain quite visible when I am cycling.  So I may look a bit messy but safety is more important, right?
I wasn't feeling very well over the weekend.  I think I am just run down.  But after drinking mugs and mugs of honey lemon tea I am feeling much better - thanks to D who took care of me.
So this is the end of the term again.  This means that I get my term report cards from all my supervisors.  As I am taking 5 papers, I will get 5 different sets.  So far only one out of 5 was released for my review (Land Law), he said I perform very well in supervisions but my essays could use improved structures.  Yes, this has been the part that I have most difficulties somehow.  My supervisors seem to think I know the law well but I just don't write as well as I should.  Hmm I am more comfortable with the numbers and bullet points, although this cannot be my excuse.
One thing for sure is that writing law essays is actually a skill that I think you can acquire.  I am sure some people have better tools to acquire such skill more easily.  Unfortunately I am not one of them.  But I understand... life is fair.  Calculus 101 was so easy for me when it wasn't to others. 
I have four more report cards to come in - one of them from my Director of Studies (DoS).  And also I will have a meeting with him this Thursday to talk about how my term went.
I am going to say, it was better than last term for sure.  I am finally getting the hang of how to study law more efficiently although I think there still is room for improvement.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sunshiny afternoon

After lunch at the dining hall, had coffee and tea with a couple of class/collegemates on the roof top overlooking a cricket field. Yes it was nice.

Wk 7 more than half way done. Wk 8 here I come.