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.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Is spring coming?

I am not sure but it definitely feels like spring.

Today I have contract, constitutional and international lectures.

Yesterday I attended a law debate on duty of care which was interesting And fun at the same time.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Beautiful Cambridge

Although life can be rather dry with all the work, one thing that Cambridge has going for it is how beautiful Cambridge is. I just wish sometimes I had more time to enjoy the beauty.

Anyways it's the beginning of wk seven. We are almost there...

Thursday, February 28, 2013

80 hour school week

Well not just any thursdays.. even week thursdays are hard.

Originally, in this term, because of rescheduling of my Tort supervision - from Tuesdays, my group ended up with three supervisions in one day.  Which is unheard of... not recommended at all.

Preparing for supervisions is quite a lot of work.  Recommended amount of work for each supervision is about 15 hrs.  so 5 papers (i.e. subjects) then that's 75 hrs per every two weeks.

Which is not much... I know...  yeah I used to work 50-70 hrs a week but I got paid... got paid pretty decent money.

I will take this opportunity to illustrate the amount of work that I would (ideally) allocate for school. Let's say each cycle is 2 wks and each term has 4 cycles.

So 5 papers
Lectures - 3 lectures a wk per paper (in Michaelmas Term) and 2 lectures a wk per paper (in Lent Term)... in Easter terms, only make-up lectures or revisions lectures are held... yup surprisingly small number of classes we have.

So let's just say 3 hr/wk/paper

So that's 15 hrs / wk --> 30 hrs / 2 wks
Downloading / flinging notes / printing stuff --> let's be generous and assign 5 hrs / 2 wks.
Supervision preps 75 hr / 2 wks
Supervision hours - they run from 1 hr to 2 hrs so average of 1.5/supervision per 2 wks --> 7.5 hrs/ 2 wks
Essay writing - each paper assigns 2 essays per term.  10 essays per term.  let's say it takes 5 hrs to write one - unfortunately it takes me longer than that... so that's 50 hrs / 8 wks so let's say 12.5 hrs / 2 wks.

Summing up (for 2 wks)

Lectures - 30 hrs
Prep classes - 5 hrs
Supervision prep - 75 hrs
Supervisions - 7.5 hrs
Essay writing 12.5 hrs
Total of 130 hrs / 2 wks
so that's 65 hrs a week.

but that's sort of average...
if you are verbally challenged - like me - who wishes the law books were written in numbers - like me...
then you need to add some contingency...

so let's say... 80 hrs a wk for me.. but even 65 hrs for normal average law student.. not a light work load.
crazy right?  yeah I did not even study this much even during exam time.

the scary thing is that you need to have your brain fully engaged at all hours...
yup.. that's what it takes as a law student... i am not sure about other places, at least that's what it is to be a law student here...

anyways, Thursdays are long days... hence my lunch [shown in the photo]...

one more supervision (contract) to go.. and then another one (land) tomorrow and wk 6 will be officially done.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Desk of a law student

This is my desk. Yup. Full of thick books. Books that I have never thought of reading as an engineer in my previous life.

I miss numbers sometimes but for now I am enjoying studying law.


Surviving Cambridge as a Mature Student...

neh... life is not too bad.

I remember hearing this - someone who went to Harvard law that you can balance three S's (school social life and sleep).  You just have to give up on one.

I have three S's and one F.  I have family.  Sure I don't have my family here in Cambridge but they (my partner D and his elderly parents) are in London which is not too far away from Cambridge.

So what do I do?  I can't give up on school.  Duh... that's the main reason why I am here.
I can't give up on my sleep - at my age I just can't.  I need to take care of myself before anything.
And I can't give up on my family for the obvious reasons.  They wait for me.  They care about me.  They miss me.

So what's left?
Social life.  What is that?  I dunno.  Is it something you drink after your meal?
Yeah, that's what I gave up.  So far, not too bad. 

Before coming to Cambridge when I learned a term here was 8 week long, I thought it was a joke.  I was used to the semester system where each semester would run for about 13-14 weeks + 2-3 weeks of exam time. 

I thank god every day that each term is only 8 week long.  You cannot physically do any longer.  Although I must say I do balance things quite well - I believe - better than those young ones, who still have much desire to party and to socialise with peers.  I have done that.  I have done that well and a lot.  I got that out of my system.  My priorities are different now.  Yeah sometimes, I wonder if I should be more like them but... I quickly realise the time has passed.  I am no longer 20 yrs old. 

It is not easy to be standing out in any ways.  But definitely got benefits of being different, being more mature. 

It is the end of Week 6.  Two more weeks and my second term is done here. 


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lent term and tripos

i know it is a bit embarrassing to write about the lent term when it is already more half over. but... here it goes.

so life as an affiliated student reading law is not easy.
law degree in general is considered to be the most difficult degree in the UK. (it is considered to be the most difficult to get the first class hounors. there is some article i read before).

but that's just for students taking it over 3 years.  affiliated students like me (also called senior status students) are finishing it in two years.  it probably makes it at least 50% harder.

currently, i am reading 5 papers (i.e. 5 subjects).
only two of them are the first year courses and the rest are from the second years.
and four out of three are core papers - which mean their syllabi cover a lot of material. 

although at the end of the degree, we - the graduates of 2 year law program - will not have completed as many papers (or subjects or courses whichever concept you feel comfortable) but we would have completed all the core ones and some electives.  yes.. it is intense. 

anyways, so in michaelmas term as the first term, it is definitely front loaded with lectures.  all core papers have three lectures a week.  this term, unless a lecturer is behind or needs to make up for a missed one, we usually have two lectures for all five papers.  so that means 10 hours of lectures a week.  that seems light, eh?  NO.  definitely not light.  because they are still covering so much material in each class and there is a pressure of tripos (i.e. year end exams...).  and they are scary. 

argh... yesterday, my classmate told me 'we need to study because we only have 18 weeks left till tripos..' yes for any other courses or program, i would have just laughed at him but here... it is different... i am starting to feel the pressure. 


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Land and International, Cambridge Tripos

I have explained previously that I am taking a two year law program; thus I have to take some papers (courses) that are for second year students.

So currently I am taking - Constitutional, Tort (these two are for 1st yrs - to be more accurate for Part IA) and Contract, Land and International (these three are for 2nd yr student - for Part IB).

There are seven papers that one has to take to be qualified in the UK and that include Constitutional, Tort, Contract, Land, (I am taking these four this year as a Part IB student - I skipped Part IA as I entered Cambridge as an affiliated student) and EU, Criminal and Equity (these three I will be taking next year as a Part II student).

Trust me.  The Cambridge tripos system is so very complicated.  I still don't quite understand.  Maybe I kind of understand now but I am probably not using the terms correctly.

International was an optional paper that I was "strongly" recommended to take.  I would have taken IP if I could but it was "strongly" recommended for me not to take.  Argh.  I was a bit disappointed as I only get to choose three optional papers until I graduate but... it seems that International Law is very interesting and it definitely helps me to understand better what's going on around the world.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Law, law and law...

yes, i am  not writing as often as i would like. but it is just too much.
my life is just consumed by law related things.  law classes, law supervisions, law books, law essays, law.. law... law...

as much as i find it intellectually challenging, i am now remembering what some tutors told me - i will need to have a life outside of school.  well their point was, otherwise, i will go crazy.

luckily, i have family in london, not far from cambridge.  i try to go see them as much as possible.  although they are more in-laws still they are my family.

also when i am in london, it has become somewhat of a tradition for me to cook every saturday.  i cook a family meal.  last saturday, i got some fresh seabass and pan fried with garlic, ginger and spring onion topping.  i loved it.  not sure if everyone else loved it as much as i did.

life is very simple.  not much goes on other than... well law related things.
i know kids can squeeze in drinking and partying.. but i was never a drinker and a partier so... that leaves me just with books.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

First day of the second term (lent term)

So it's been awhile since I wrote my last posting.
The time has flown and I finished my first term. I was somewhat disappointed at the fact that I didn't work as much as I could have.

However I believe not harping on the past. What has been done is in the past there is no point of thinking about it and regretting it. So today was the first day of the lectures and we were supposed to have two, which is a change from last term since I had three lectures in that on Thursdays.

Also I met the substituting supervisor forward toward him because my supervisor is on sabbatical leave for this term. Anyways it's nice to be back to the routine. All the weather's been a bit cold. This morning it was -9°C. But luckily the temperature picked up to 1°, I think. So anyways this is the view from my window. I hope to be able to post another posting soon.