GDL HELL: ‘With The Job Market The Way It Is, Passing Is Simply Not Good Enough’

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The pressure is on as GDL exams near, but the more David Woodall reads, the less he feels like he knows

It’s here: every lecture, seminar and revision session in the last nine months has been leading up to this point, where Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) students around the country get to demonstrate everything they can remember.

I’m approaching the whole thing with a calm relaxed manner, safe in the knowledge that the three hours I have will be ample time to write an answer worthy of publication, and a mention to all future GDL’ers as an example to follow. Lecturers will weep at the clarity of my arguments and my ability to recall case names and principles.

Or not. In the real world, the last few weeks have been an exercise in realising just how crap my memory has become. I have read, and re-read, everything and my head must be full of knowledge as nothing new seems to be going in. I am now confident that my exam answers will result in lecturers using them as an example of how not to write. My goal is just to get through the whole experience.

Panic has definitely set in. I have less than a week before it all begins and I’m confident that I know sod-all (I have considered resorting to some sort of amateur mind-map system i.e. my public law lecturer looks like Mr Monopoly; Monopoly has rules, it has a jail, it also has dice. Therefore Dicey is something to do with the rule of law. Distinction here I come!).

That the GDL (at my university at least) expects you to know all things about the seven core topics, just in case any of them should come up on the exam, is incredibly full on. Just knowing the principles and case names isn’t enough – you need a decent knowledge of academics and judges and their thoughts on the topics in case there are any relevant essay questions on the paper.

Added to this is the HUGE stress and pressure that any law student must be feeling now – with the job market the way it is, passing is simply not good enough. Everybody knows that the best grades get the job…except in law when even that doesn’t appear to be enough, so anything less than a merit (equivalent of a 2:1) is not going to land you the elusive training contract or pupillage.

To give myself a fighting chance I have furnished myself with textbooks, journals and enough Haribo Starmix to give me a serious sugar-related illness.

The approach I have taken, which will work brilliantly, or terribly, is to try and second guess the questions on the paper, as some topics lend themselves more to essay or problem questions, and then to write and re-write my broad answers so that I’ve got one or two pages of material all ready to go.

However, what I have noticed (and I really hope I’m not the only one) is that the more and more I read, the less and less I feel I know. It’s a sinking feeling when you come across something that is bound to come up on an exam which you have never seen before.

In any event, the message of this brief piece is whatever revision approach you take, and no matter how stressful it is knowing that your future (whether you’re likely to go into law or not) will be decided in these two to three weeks, you’re not the only one feeling like it. I am pretty sure that my fellow classmates are having a similar time – so nobody reading this should feel that they are alone in not knowing anything about law, despite having studied it all year.

David Woodall is currently studying the Graduate Diploma in Law. He writes regularly for the Huffington Post UK.