W223: Company Law — got a distinction!

That was unex­pec­ted! I got noti­fic­a­tion yes­ter­day that I’d been awar­ded a dis­tinc­tion on the Open Uni­ver­sity law course I did last winter: W223: Com­pany law and prac­tice.

The dis­tinc­tion was an unex­pec­ted pleas­ure as I thought I was only in 2:1 ter­rit­ory — I didn’t think I had quite the grade aver­age neces­sary across the marked assign­ments — the Open Uni­ver­sity gen­er­ally requires that your clas­si­fic­a­tion for a course will be the lower of your achieve­ment in the final exam / end–of–course assign­ment, and of the aver­age of your marked assign­ments through­out the course — though I knew I was only a per­cent­age point or two short.

So, les­sons learned from this course:

  • Don’t overly con­cern your­self if you think you’re one or two per­cent­age points short. Don’t use it as an excuse to drop your stand­ards.
  • Take time on end–of–course assign­ments. Everything you need, fac­tu­ally, is there. What can get you the bonus marks is a mat­ter of look­ing a little fur­ther — research the cur­rent state of the law and aca­dem­ic com­ment about the ques­tions at hand. Incor­por­ate these into your answer, and cite every asser­tion you make.
  • Make sure your bib­li­o­graphy and ref­er­ences are full and accur­ate: include every paper you read and found to be rel­ev­ant, even if you didn’t use it. You nev­er know when some­thing has uncon­sciously slipped through.
  • And finally, again, take time. Whilst mak­ing sure you can sub­mit on time, use the last day for a re-read. Out loud. It’s amaz­ing how many little gram­mat­ic­al slips you can find that way.

I enjoyed this course, and didn’t find it a slog at any point. But have to admit I’m very happy with the res­ult.

Calculate your Open University degree classification

I have just found this and though it worth a men­tion and link: Cleveret’s Open Uni­ver­sity Degree Class Cal­cu­lat­or. It seems to do all the hard work cor­rectly, includ­ing cal­cu­lat­ing the qual­ity assur­ance scores.

Very use­ful if you want to work out what grades you need — there­fore also what aver­ages you’ll need to achieve in your course work over the course of the year. Accur­ately know­ing the tar­get you need to hit is pretty much essen­tial, I think.

Writing the assignment answer you want to

I’m back on the marked assign­ments again — I’m around a week ahead of sched­ule, which is good. Like the last one, this one too is one of tight word–counts: 800 for each of two ques­tions.

I have writ­ten 932 words for one of the ques­tions, and I am around 250 from fin­ish­ing. I’m also find­ing it the easi­est ques­tion I’ve attemp­ted in ages.

Nor­mally, when answer­ing assign­ment ques­tions, I spend more time wor­ry­ing about the struc­ture and the edit­ing than get­ting the con­tent down on paper. Work­ing out what I need to say from what I want to say is a pro­cess that can drive me into para­lys­is. This time, I’m just not caring. Sep­ar­at­ing the writ­ing phase and the edit­ing phase turns out to allow me to write the answer I want to, then edit it into the answer that’s actu­ally needed for sub­mis­sion to my tutor.

This isn’t a tech­nique that will neces­sar­ily work well in exam con­di­tions, how­ever the tech­nique of writ­ing an answer plan first is sim­il­ar, if in reverse. But I am going to con­tin­ue to use it for the rest of my assign­ments, to see if it is a meth­od to get around the para­lys­is I often feel when writ­ing — what my friend Simon Pride described as my “inner cen­sor”. I hope it does.

Review: OU W201 Units 11–13 — Judicial Review

My good­ness, this unit has had some work done to it recently, and it shows, both in good and bad ways.

Good stuff: very use­ful full-page graphs of the con­stitu­ent parts of a claim for Judi­cial Review. In the main — a good struc­ture; lead­ing through in stages from a gen­er­al over­view of the nature and con­sti­tu­tion­al basis for review, through avail­ab­il­ity, claims and rem­ed­ies, unavail­ab­il­ity, and grounds of chal­lenge. In the main, the units were well laid-out and pretty clear.

Bad stuff: Ouch! It’s clearly a work in pro­gress. There are changes in emphas­is between sec­tions, and some parts (sev­en pages on the Exclus­iv­ity Rule) seem to be giv­en great­er prom­in­ence than appears to be neces­sary. Worse though — there are hanging sen­tences in places. It has clearly been a rush job, get­ting it ready for this year, and that has led to mis­takes.

In say­ing that, it was an inter­est­ing unit to study. Judi­cial Review is a mat­ter that is not well-under­stood by many people, not helped by the press. And the unit gave a good broad under­stand­ing of what it is, why it is neces­sary and how it works.

The assign­ment for the unit was par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing. As well as cov­er­ing assim­il­a­tion and under­stand­ing of what had been stud­ied, it imposed an incred­ibly strict word count; no doubt in order to teach con­cise­ness. Three ques­tions: 600, 600 and 1000. I sub­mit­ted at 598, 598 and 1000 — and I had writ­ten approx­im­ately one and a half times that, and edited it down. Per­haps it was a little too strict — if I had around fifty words more in each sec­tion, I wouldn’t have needed to spend an hour and a half reword­ing indi­vidu­al sen­tences — to the point of chan­ging tense to save three words — to get under word count. There is a fine line between learn­ing the les­son being taught, and wast­ing time as the les­son is enforced. This per­haps stepped past that line.

That’s the end of the civil part of the course. Now we move onto the crim­in­al law. Halfway through the course already? Time is fly­ing!

Watch how the Supreme Court works

Words I’d nev­er thought I’d utter: I have a reas­on to watch Sky News. OK, on the web. The reas­on being is that Sky News is livestream­ing the UK Supreme Court.

When the Supreme Court moved into its new home in the Middle­sex Guild­hall in 2009, it had been fit­ted out for record­ing of all court pro­ceed­ings. Unfor­tu­nately, until now, this tech­no­logy had pretty much gone to waste. Interest in the details of the goings-on of the highest court in the land? Min­im­al.

So I’m very happy to see Sky News step­ping up and broad­cast­ing the Supreme Court’s pro­ceed­ings. A quick read of the homepage will let you see what’s going on, and find­ing the detail via a quick browse of the cur­rent cases list will give you the back­ground to the case.

The gen­er­al rule that justice is done in pub­lic is a strong thread in UK leg­al belief. While the broad­cast­ing of the Supreme Court’s pro­ceed­ings are of no interest and of little more rel­ev­ance to most people in the UK, the fact that it is broad­cast at all is a step in the right dir­ec­tion.

What would be good, of course, is a pub­licly-access­ible archive of debate. Law report­ing is good, and pub­licly-access­ible judg­ments on BAILII are a great step for­ward in the abil­ity to learn about the out­come of a case, but also under­stand its out­come and of the facts and reas­on­ing behind it.

This is the tele­vi­sion gen­er­a­tion, though. I per­son­ally would love for all pub­lic pro­ceed­ings to be recor­ded and made avail­able via an archive. Raw inform­a­tion is good — it allows people to go back to the ori­gin­al source later, rather than filtered excerpts, that can lose con­text. I fear, though, that it would be com­pletely unfeas­ible in terms of both raw cost and of poten­tial use­ful­ness.

I just don’t like throw­ing away raw inform­a­tion. One of these days I’ll write a post com­par­ing review of pre­ced­ent with archae­ology. But the one line sum­mary is that noth­ing beats the ori­gin­al.

W201 unit retrospective: Human Rights

I fin­ished the Human Rights sec­tion of W201 — my cur­rent OU Law course — around a month ago. After some com­plain­ing about it when I was start­ing off, it turned out to be more inter­est­ing — and a lot more rel­ev­ant — than I first assumed it would be.

The sec­tion of the course covered three major issues: the inter­ac­tion of the European Con­ven­tion on Human Rights with actions of the State, its guar­an­tee of rights of the indi­vidu­al and how that is achieved in the UK leg­al sys­tem, and how con­flict between indi­vidu­als with rights is dealt with.

On start­ing the sec­tion, the UK had just lost its appeal in Greens and M.T. v UK (600401÷08) [2010] ECHR 1826 — where the European Court of Human Rights had ruled that a blanket ban against serving pris­on­ers vot­ing was a viol­a­tion of their rights. And as I was near­ing the end of the sec­tion, the ongo­ing con­flict with indi­vidu­als’ right of pri­vacy and news­pa­pers right of free­dom to impart inform­a­tion was heav­ily in the news, espe­cially around the sub­ject of super­in­junc­tions.

So con­trary to expect­a­tions, it turned out to be both rel­ev­ant and inter­est­ing. And I’m pretty sure I bored friends at some length on the sub­ject — so it must have grabbed my ima­gin­a­tion! Con­tin­ue read­ing “W201 unit ret­ro­spect­ive: Human Rights”

Lacking in Relevance

I tweeted yes­ter­day my first frus­tra­tion with my cur­rent Open Uni­ver­sity law course: the indi­vidu­al and the state. I’ve hit the first bit that feels like filler — which inter­est­ingly, isn’t the point where oth­er stu­dents have com­plained that some­thing feels like filler.

Oth­er stu­dents com­plained much earli­er on. Right at the start of the course, where there were a long series of units where it wasn’t clear how their con­tent would become rel­ev­ant. I found them hard work, but I get their over­all rel­ev­ance now. I also appre­ci­ate that it’s use­ful to try to grasp the fla­vour of an ele­ment of a sub­ject in isol­a­tion, and that the course mater­i­als evolve from year to year, and that can leave struc­tur­al anom­alies — bits that used to have more rel­ev­ance than they seem to cur­rently have. But unless there’s a hint as to why the sec­tion you’re study­ing will be use­ful later on, then there can be the feel­ing that you’re in the middle of someone else’s infodump.

I would not expect to be marked well on an essay that didn’t, in its open­ing remarks, address both what it was about to dis­cuss but also the rel­ev­ance to the ques­tion being asked. Think­ing about that, unfor­tu­nately, has made me real­ise I am actu­ally in someone else’s infodump right now — and because there’s a ques­tion in the exam at the end of it, for each year I have past papers, this is a moment at which all I can do is suck it up and decide to answer the upcom­ing ques­tion, or not.

This is not in any way as bad as a course, I pre­vi­ously stud­ied, where my views are on the record (and seem­ingly vin­dic­ated by more recent present­a­tions), but still, it’s the first part of the course that feels as if it’s stepped off the over­all plan. I’m in the middle of an infodump right now, and my instinct says that the best thing for me to do is to ignore this sec­tion of the course and run the per­cent­ages — while a quarter of the exam in Octo­ber is a big slice to throw away right now without even revis­ing it, my instinct says that if the sec­tion being stud­ied lacks focus, then the exam ques­tion is impossible to pre­dict.

I think I can spend my time bet­ter, study­ing oth­er things than a sec­tion that, while appears to be rel­ev­ant, lacks the nar­rat­ive that iden­ti­fies con­tent with focus and rel­ev­ance. Even if there’s a guar­an­teed exam ques­tion bur­ied in there.

I don’t have time to dig for it, though. I appre­ci­ate it. But to hit the exam ques­tion, I would need a shot­gun. And exams in my exper­i­ence emphas­ise your rifle skills.

How I now take notes while studying

The pro­cess of try­ing to cap­ture what I’m learn­ing is a pro­cess that is still under a degree of tri­al and error, here. When I was at school and last study­ing at uni­ver­sity level, it just kind of went in. I didn’t care about the pro­cess. Now, a few Open Uni­ver­sity courses later of vary­ing dif­fi­culty, I find that I need to pay some atten­tion to the tech­niques of study­ing, in order to find ones that suit me best. Con­tin­ue read­ing “How I now take notes while study­ing”

Improving the retention of what I study

The major prob­lem I have had with study­ing an Open Uni­ver­sity course with an exam at the end of it is that through­out my career, I have not needed to remem­ber detail. In fact, I’ve writ­ten about this before recently. Because of the abil­ity of inform­a­tion on the inter­net, I’ve nev­er needed to recall all the depths of a sub­ject. But you can’t take Google into an exam.

Because of this, I’ve been look­ing at vari­ous tech­niques in order to improve the reten­tion of what I’m study­ing. My pre­vi­ous approaches of read — take notes — cre­ate revi­sion notes didn’t work as well as I’d like — per­haps because there was no pro­cess of recall involved, it was all about read­ing and re-read­ing. So I found an art­icle on how to trick your brain into remem­ber­ing what you study pretty inter­est­ing.

It sug­gests that exer­cising powers of recall are the key in set­ting down memor­ies. This sug­gests that a pro­cess of read — cre­ate ques­tions — answer ques­tions — cre­ate notes might work bet­ter.

So that’s what I’ll be try­ing on my next OU course. W201: Law: the indi­vidu­al and the state starts on Fri­day. Wish me luck.

Law Exam: Fear of Failure

It is twelve days until my first law exam. The course is long-fin­ished, I’ve gone through the course­work, and my notes, and dis­tilled them down into my revi­sion note­book. I’ve atten­ded the final in-per­son study ses­sion, and whilst there added to that note­book a few things I had not got as well as I could have done.

And now it has sat there, unopened, for three days. I’m at that hor­rible burnout stage where I just don’t care right now.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked the course. I like the sub­ject, and I’ve signed up for a winter course on Com­pany Law, and the next full mod­ule (The Indi­vidu­al and the State) start­ing in Feb­ru­ary. But I always find that there is a time when you’re going over stuff that you just want it to be over.

What’s going on, I think, is a spe­cial­ised form of exam fear. I’ve been hit­ting 2:1 stand­ard on my course­work through­out the year — which I think is good enough, con­sid­er­ing this is the first law course I’ve ever done. It’s not the fear of going into the exam­in­a­tion hall and actu­ally sit­ting and writ­ing the paper — I did that (for the first time in 20 years or so!) a couple of years ago, and didn’t have a prob­lem.

What I think is going on, is fear of fail­ure. I set pretty high stand­ards for myself, and will not be con­tent if I don’t match up to them. I know this is pretty stu­pid, and I know that fail­ing to revise (thus increas­ing the like­li­hood of not doing as well as I should) is not only self-destruct­ive but also makes the fear of fail­ure a self-ful­filling proph­ecy.

Writ­ing this down, I hope, is the first step to break­ing out of this nasty little loop. I’ve revised everything once, and still have elev­en days to lock it all in. And I’m not exactly busy just now, after all!

Wish me luck.