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.


Mark Pentecost

David, I have felt your pain. In 2009 I sat my GDL exams and in the process seriously hurt my brain.



I sat my first exam yesterday and this is exactly how I feel!
My tactic was to pick the 3 questions that come up each year, and spend my time revising those. Looks like this year the question writers chose to experiment though, as they threw in a penalty clause or two, which I did not revise for!
Maybe I’ll take a bag of Haribo in with me tomorrow and hope for an epiphany!



This article was a breath of fresh air after my revision has been failing miserably! It’s good to know I’m not alone – and hopefully we will all be okay.



I got a Distinction and came top of my year on the GDL at Manchester Met.

I drew big poster mind maps using coloured felt-tip pens and revised the bread and butter law by journeying through these mind maps one after the other.

I studied previous exam papers going back at least three years and looked for themes… Most substantive areas of law (e.g contract) will contain very similar questions year on year relating to the main issues (e.g, consideration, offer and acceptance etc) …I identified these themes and concentrated my revision here.

Be creative for higher marks… I actually thought I’d failed Contract Law because I use d a Williams v Roffey Bros solution to a Foakes v Beer problem question – this actually got me high marks… surprising at the time.

Put the time in !! during the months up to the exams I started each day at 7am and finished at 10pm. I gave myself good break periods, had good sleep and ate well… I approached it like I was training for a big title fight..

Just passing the GDL is pants… in the current climate you need a Distinction and to get this you need to seriously apply yourself.


bob smith

I was doing it part time and just bit the dust!! I come from a science background!! They really hated my essay style!! The feedback stated “your essay reads like revision notes!!” I was insulting 🙁

I really tried, I remember all the key cases!! The feedback did not fault me on my knowledge, they mocked the flow of my essay,

I used the irac method (not a country= issue, rule, application, conclusion) I used these as titles, Am taking a year out from this due to funds, also, I need to do a writing course of some sort, any advice on how to write legal essays is most welcome, I averaged at 37 for contract, public and tort, other modules were to be done next year, the GDL does not teach you how the want the exam written, they only teach the information, I want this bad!!!! I will hit back hard!!!!! my tutor is no where to be found, he’s like that, again, feedback is most appreciated friends 🙂


bob smith

*it was insulting



Hi Bob-

Having taught and examined at a top ten law school, I think it is unlikely that the way in which your answer was written was the only reason you did not achieve a high mark, even if that is what the feedback says. It may be that the way you wrote your answer meant that you were not in fact answering the question, or that your answer was indecipherable. Certainly when I was marking exams it was perfectly possible to get a (very low) 2.2 even if the structure and style were complete crap, provided it was possible to discern from what the examinee had written that they had understood the question and responded with accurate and relevant information. Obviously I don’t know what GDL mark schemes are like, but I would be surprised if your essay style was the only problem.

I’d be happy to have a look at some of your work if we can figure out a way to get in touch that doesn’t involve me putting my email address up here!



IRAC is for problem questions only!! Not, I repeat, NOT for essays!


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