The FE-1 Exams: Top Tips and Study Strategies
To any law student reading this now: if the thought of the Final Examination Part 1 exams make you want to cover your head with a pillow, then fear not.
You are not alone in feeling this way, even among those who are currently attending Blackhall Place, having at long last earned their place and never want to dwell on those exams ever again.
For the vast majority of solicitors recently qualified, the FE-1 examinations are but a distant memory, representing just one more hurdle along the academic road to the legal profession.
Truthfully, they are not the easiest exams to have ever been formulated, but they are not impossible and I would like to share some of my study strategies that helped me through that intensive, gruelling time.
Here are some of my top tips when traversing these crucial exams:
1. Subject Choice
To start with the basics, there are eight subjects that are needed to be passed for the FE-1 exams:
6. European Union Law;
7. Equity; and
For the first sitting of the FE-1 exams, each student is expected to pass three subjects with a mark of 50 per cent or more.
In this regard, it is best to study subjects that you are fairly confident in, but to also take care not to leave the tougher subjects until your second sitting that will cause you undue stress while preparing.
It is preferable to take your first sitting with four subjects just to give yourself some breathing room in passing three or even all of them. Reach for the stars!
Here is another tip about subject choice: E.U. Law and Constitutional Law tend to be the most heavy subjects with larger manuals, so you may prefer to choose either one in your first set of four.
It is entirely up to you how you pick your subjects, but just be aware of the workload of each and how to balance them out.
2. Grind Courses and Tutors
It can be a great thing to be independent, to do this volume of work under your own steam, but given the difficulty and high costs of applying for these exams, if you are having difficulty in passing or if something is not clicking for you after your first sitting, it is definitely worth it to invest in a preparatory grind course, such as those offered by City Colleges and Griffith College Dublin.
The course provides lectures on each of the subjects and the core topics of each, with past exam questions, exam trends and sample answers which can be used as a guide for case notes and for the structure of a problem question or essay.
I attended the online learning distance course while still living in Cork, and was able to watch the recorded lectures at my leisure with pots of tea and my notes at my side, so this is a great option for anyone living outside of Dublin unable to travel to the city.
In relation to these courses, I would strongly stress to take care with sample answers, to use them as guidance rather than learning them verbatim, because examiners tend to be quite clever in spotting a sample problem question answer if more than ten people in an examination centre have put down the same answer.
City Colleges also hand out night before notes each day during the exams so it is well worth having these to supplement your own notes.
In my personal experience, Property and Equity were my stumbling blocks, and I invested also in an independent tutor to help me tease out any issues that I was having as well as improving my time management which was a great boost to me in my final sittings.
Tutoring can also be especially helpful for anyone who is feeling nervous about any of the subjects and will need that reassurance, or if they prefer to talk the issues through to get clarity for their answers.
3. Practice, practice, practice
It can be a good afternoon's study to sit down with an open book and read, read, read several chapters, but in the end, you are merely absorbing information (or as one of my tutors put it, swallowing the manual) and not applying what is needed to the exam questions.
If there are lengthy topics that take up many paragraphs in a manual, break them down into manageable sections and finding out what the golden thread is that connects them rather than trying to cram it all into your memory first go.
Try attempting recent past exams questions and comparing them with sample answers on your course, or with someone in a study group so you can become familiar with the structure and how much information is required for an answer rather than waffling or including non-relevant information.
A good memory test can be putting certain points in a list, such as the requirements for a Mareva injunction or setting out the facts of a seminal Constitutional Law case and testing yourself that you have all of the important points included.
This can also be a good method for practicing your time-management and keeping to the strict time limit, which I will discuss next.
4. Time Management
Each exam is three hours long with a choice of eight questions to complete five. In breaking down your time, include roughly five minutes for reading and choosing your answers, making some roughwork notes and structuring your answers, with another five minutes at the end to review your work.
In dividing out the time, ou will have thirty-four minutes for each question and each second counts. This is often why looking at past exam papers can be a great help, because you can glance over a particular problem question or essay and know immediately that you have enough information to write plenty of material on.
If you find yourself with some time to spare, then review your questions carefully, make sure your writing is legible and include any roughwork when handing up your scripts.
Also take care when the exam hall invigilators say to stop writing and are taking up the scripts because they won't look kindly on people delaying the entire hall from leaving.
There is not much left to do if you are still furiously writing in a panic, so it is best to be satisfied with the work you have done rather than causing mental anguish.
The best way is to adhere to that strict time slot for each question and give each question the same amount of time and allow yourself that review that at the end.
5. Study Techniques
As I mentioned above, reading pages and pages of a book can be informative but not conducive to retention of information, especially on the exam day when the nerves kick in.
What also happens is that two hours may have passed by and your concentration has dipped or your attention has been distracted a few times, so your brain's memory function might be slightly lower.
One method of study can be to use the Pomodoro technique, that was helpfully explained in a recent JCI Dublin time-management workshop delivered by Ian Byrne, the Time Coach.
Here is the technique in a helpful diagram:
I find this is extremely helping for honing my concentration as I am guilty of checking emails or social media in between writing or researching, so this is a good method for getting a great deal done with less mental fatigue and a great deal more material covered.
6. Study Notes
While it may be wonderful to have pages and pages of notes marked with highlighter and a manual tabbed in all the colours of the rainbow, on the morning of the exam, you may feel slightly stressed to say the least and there is no worse thing than to be frantically flipping through a book to find a point of law that you are blanking on.
The chances are that reading a question on the paper will cause a lightbulb moment and you will recall writing down certain points in a list or practicing an exam question quite similar to it, so be willing to trust your brain and all that you have prepared.
Flashcards will be your best friend in this regard. You can write out neatly any main case points, any important provisions of statutes and any additional commentary that you might find useful.
You can also write out short questions on one side and flip them over for the important points as a quick refresher on the day like a pop quiz, as they say in the States.
While the temptation is to bring your books and notes downstairs to read before you go inside the exam hall, this is not a good practice and you may wind up feeling more nervous than ever, so be familiar with your flashcards and use them wisely.
7. Health Talk, Real Talk
It may often go without saying, but do take care of yourself during this time.
Burnout happens even to the most diligent of students and the hardest workers in any profession, but finding that important balance between study and a healthy lifestyle that is sustainable is really important not only for your physical wellbeing but your mental health.
Eat a well balanced diet, with plenty of fish and greens to feed the brain, and avoid caffeine and processed foods as much as possible.
Do your best to swap coffee and energy drinks for smoothies, fruit juice and water as the giver of life, and sugary snacks for granola and fruit.
Tea is still more than fine, my Irish readers will be glad to know, but always in moderation and with some sweetener rather than sugar.
Bananas tend to be the staple of student diets, but you choose whatever fruit you prefer. I remember crunching Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples, which remain my complete favourites.
I may sound like a typical mammy, but eating well can be a great help to your studying,
One supplement that I wholly recommend is Omega fish oils or Udos Choice Oils that come in gel capsules. During my Junior Certificate exams, the stress combined with the hormonal changes that were occurring in my body made my skin break out, but taking Udos Oil calmed down my system and improved my skin, and Omega fish oils are great for contributing to a healthy brain function, so consider taking these with your main meal of the day.
While it is lovely to unwind with a glass of wine or a few beers over the weekend, try to resist that temptation in the few weeks coming up to the exams because you will feel your mood dropping and your concentration waver, so think of it as a form of self-sacrifice, that is temporary only and you can celebrate to your heart's content once the sittings are over.
If you are working full-time, make sure you are not overstretching yourself in the evenings and getting plenty of sleep. You are more than request leave from your boss to study and to travel to the exam centre on any of the days.
For myself, I was on work experience during my first two sittings of the FE-1s and while it was quite demanding time-wise, my colleagues were very understanding and even gave me some tips for tackling some of the tougher topics.
I still felt that my time in the office was valuable for my training contract in future, but every person is different, so weigh up the responsibilities and time commitments before applying for the exams. It may even be the wrong time if there is too much occurring in your daily life as studying requires a full commitment.
Your physical wellbeing is also important. Even a thirty minute walk while on a study break in the fresh air will pay dividends in the long run, and if you have time on the weekends, visit the gym or take a fitness class or even purchase one of those charming celebrity workout DVDs that suit your fitness level if you cannot even bear to step on a treadmill.
It is also helpful to learn some breathing exercises that will help settle your nerves, particularly if you do get quite nervous when it comes to exams.
Alternate nostril breathing as practiced in yoga classes is a great way to centre yourself and steady your breathing, and you can look up tutorials on YouTube on how to do this.
8. The Exam Day
The FE-1 exams take place in the Red Cow Hotel on the outskirts of Dublin city each year, so if you are travelling from outside of Dublin, give yourself plenty of time to arrive either at the hotel or to your accommodation.
Make sure you have your photo identification with you, a letter with your examination number, plenty of pens and a bottle of water.
They are also pretty strict when it comes to mobile phones so make sure it is switched off completely.
Also make sure to double check what legislation you can bring into the exam: for Contract, the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, for EU Law, the main Treaties of the EU and for Company, the Companies Act 2014. The Law Society will provide a list of these texts that are required when corresponding with you about the exams.
Make sure that they are not marked with written notes or, but you are more than welcome to tab certain sections with post-its for easy reference, just make sure that there is no writing on them..
In the Red Cow Hotel, you can leave your notes outside the exam hall in a corner, but it's best to leave your wallet or any other valuables in your room (if you have booked to stay in the hotel or the Ibis Hotel or in the glove compartment of your car if you have driven to the venue.
A simple rule I taught myseld for after completing an exam is 'No post-mortems'. It saves any additional stress and your confidence.can remain intact rather than worrying about how you did on the day.
Your work and preparation will reflect in your answers, and that is what the main result will be.
All I will say to finish this piece is that these exams are just that: exams. While designed in a highly time-sensitive and pressured atmosphere, it is a means by which to test your knowledge and skill in applying the law to a set of facts, your understanding of case-law and your ability to analyse key areas of the law.
You will never face these kind of exams ever again in your entire career, so take every opportunity to learn, to listen and to do your very best safe in the knowledge that you will never have to go through such intense memory tests ever again.
If any reader has any specific questions about the exam experience, please leave a comment on this post or if you have suggestions for future guidance posts in the future, and I hope this post was of some guidance.
Many thanks to Alan Moore, one of my lovely subscribers, for his suggestion for this piece.
You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more posts about the law and my experiences as a PPC1 student.
You can also find more information about Griffith College Dublin, City Colleges and Ian Byrne at the links below:
Griffith College Dublin FE-1 Preparatory Courses: https://www.griffith.ie/faculties/professional-law/courses/fe1-preparatory-course-law-society-entrance-exam
City Colleges FE-1 Revision Courses: http://www.citycolleges.ie/wp/fe1/
The Time Coach Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thetimecoach/