What do Cambridge Law Professors/Lecturers look for when they mark the Cambridge Law Test?

First, we would highly recommend that you check out these two articles written by Clare Fenton-Glynn and Dominic de Cogan, both of whom teach at the Cambridge Faculty of Law, for their perspectives on what makes a great Cambridge Law Test answer. (Bear in mind, however, that the article by Fenton-Glynn is based on an old version of the CLT, which involved a passage-based question).

For your convenience, we’ve read through the two articles and summarised the key elements to what makes a great answer:

Points that are clearly relevant to the question asked

Each main paragraph should be discussing an argument that helps answer the question. For example, on the question, “Is it justifiable to require everyone to register their DNA for the purpose of identifying criminals?”, the examiners do not want a general discussion of the importance of crime-fighting or how police registration of DNA would work. These do not really answer the question of whether it is justifiable to register everyone’s DNA. In fact, de Cogan says that each student “should always be able to explain why you are making each point, and how it helps to answer the question”.

An exploration of both the arguments and the counter-arguments

Even if you strongly agree or disagree with one position, you should always be identifying and discussing counter-arguments – and responding to them if there are certain weaknesses in these counter-arguments. More often than not, the questions set will not have a straightforward answer and in fact multiple viewpoints will be valid. As such, your essay would be incomplete or missing the point if you did not in fact raise any opposing viewpoints.

A logical structure

As de Cogan notes, it should be clear and obvious “how you have decided to answer the question”. A good way of demonstrating this is setting out in your introduction the basic structure of your essay, e.g. “First, this essay will discuss…; then, this essay will discuss…; finally, this essay will conclude by examining…”

Clear and understandable writing

Apart from spelling and grammar, it is important to make sure that your writing is concise. You should not be writing sentences that are fifty or sixty words long! It is often better to write short sentences with understandable English that clearly convey your point. Do not include obscure and difficult vocabulary for the sake of it! de Cogan says that he would prefer a student write clearly in “in short sentences and with one- and two-syllable words” rather than “obscurely with many-syllabled words”.

An evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments

de Cogan suggests that it would be useful to conclude whether “your view is much stronger than the alternatives” or whether they would in fact be “finely balanced”. This means not just raising arguments but considering whether they are strong or weak, and whether certain arguments might outweigh others. For example, on the question, “Is it justifiable to require everyone to register their DNA for the purpose of identifying criminals?”, you might identify competing considerations: the objective of crime-fighting and the right to privacy. It would be useful to evaluate which consideration would weigh more heavily in the context of a mandatory registration of everyone’s DNA, or if you think that the arguments are in fact quite evenly matched.

Spending adequate time on all parts of the argument

Both Fenton-Glynn and de Cogan discuss the importance of timing and making sure that you are dedicating equal time to the arguments you have planned to discuss in your essay. It is not useful to spend paragraphs elaborating one argument and then only discussing the other argument you have planned in one or two sentences because you have run out of time! It would help to fix the time you are writing for each argument/section of your essay beforehand (e.g. 5 minutes for your introduction, 15 minutes for one of your main arguments, 15 minutes for your second argument, 15 minutes for laying out an important counter-argument and your response, and then 5 minutes for your conclusion and 5 minutes to proofread) and just wrap up and move on when you have exceeded that time.

Photo by Friends of Europe (Creative Commons licence here).

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