With the next sitting just around the corner, our online editor discusses his own experience of the dreaded Final Examinations - First Part. More commonly known as the FE-1s, these exams are a rite of passage for those seeking to gain entry to Blackhall Place and by extension, the legal profession.
Before one embarks on the year-long (ish) journey that is the FE-1s, it is extremely worthwhile to sit down and lay out a battle plan. To trot out a tired - but nonetheless applicable - cliché, these exams are a marathon and not a sprint. As a law student entering into final year, it is advisable to lay out your post-graduation year before the dust has settled on your last round of university exams.
This plan will be shaped by varying considerations - chief amongst these being of course the presence or absence of a solicitor training contract as you will know then how much time you have to play with. For those fortunate enough to have a training contract lined up, it might be a good idea to get the exams out of the way as soon as possible to take the pressure off as your start date approaches.
Four and Four
The first decision that has to be made is how you will split up the exams. Most students take at least two, if not three sittings to complete the exams. As stated above, it all depends on when you plan on going to Blackhall. Since three exams have to be passed on your first sitting, it is advisable to take at least four, giving yourself some leeway in case you do fail one.
Therefore, it is imperative that you quickly abandon the fallacy that passing all eight at one sitting is possible - particularly if you are working on top of study. Sure, we have all heard of someone's cousin whose brother-in-law passed them all over one sitting. However, unless you absolutely have to pass all eight to avail of a training contract offer, then conventional wisdom dictates that you should not put yourself through such unnecessary trauma.
If you do feel the need to test yourself, then front-loading is the best way to go - ie taking 6 and then 2, or perhaps 5 and 3. While this approach may help to take the pressure off for your second sitting, it does come with some drawbacks. You will be far more used to the actual mechanics of the exam by the time you have completed your first sitting. Therefore, any gains made in terms of relieving pressure will be offset by the 'opportunity cost' involved in taking more exams when you are less used to them.
A second core consideration that students must meditate upon prior to embarking on their FE-1 journey is that of subject combinations. As with all law exams, some work well when combined with others due to overlapping case law or concepts. However, individuals may have an aptitude for certain subjects and this is as valid a consideration as any. The eight subjects that are examined are as follows:
- The Law of Contract
- Company Law
- Criminal Law
- Constitutional Law
- The Law of Tort
- Real Property
- European Union Law
It is often said that Contract, Equity and Real Property (Land) work well in combination with one another, together with a fourth subject - usually one with a larger-sized syllabus like EU, Constitutional or Tort. However, in my own case it is worth noting that all of the above is a case of 'do as I say and not as I do'. I made major mistakes in terms of subject selection, opting to sit just three exams at my first sitting: Company Law, Equity and Property. While these worked well together as they were fresh in my mind from final year, I should really have added a fourth.
Before you begin studying, it is necessary to gather everything that you need into various folders. Personally, I like to have one folder for each exam and then a master organisational folder in which I keep everything related to the exams, but not related to any subject in particular - ie, hotel booking confirmations, letter from the Law Society confirming receipt of payment and so forth.
It is also very important to get your hands on legislation as soon as possible. If you are doing contract law, you will need to contact the OPW to purchase the relative sale of goods acts. For property, it is necessary to purchase the Succession Act 1965 and the LCLRA 2009. The full list of Law Society permitted legislation is available on the FE-1 section of their website.
Arguably the most important piece of legislation - relative to the amount it contributes to your success on the day - is the Companies Act 2014. It is an absolute necessity to purchase a copy of this monumental consolidating act as soon as possible so that you can tabulate the relative sections. This will save you time on the day of the exam, the very last thing you want to be doing is flicking furiously through the index searching for anything vaguely related to liquidation. From personal experience, I found it very helpful to colour-code my Companies Act tabs. If my memory serves me correctly, everything blue related to directors, green to receivership/examinership, pink to shareholders and so forth.
Time Spent Studying
The final issue that students must consider is arguably the most important: How long do I need to spend studying to guarantee I pass these exams? As the pass mark is set at the higher rate of 50%, this is most assuredly more difficult than your average college exam. Moreover, examiners tend to mark between 10-15 out of 20 for good to very good answers and as a consequence, it is imperative that students answer five questions.
It is advisable that students cover the syllabus in its entirety. While this may sound daunting, there is a glimmer of hope in the fact that less depth is needed. Students need only concern themselves with concepts and case law - with more recent Irish precedents holding the most importance - and therefore, academic commentary carries less weight than it would otherwise do.
The average rule of thumb is that two weeks of concentrated study is needed per exam. Taking the example of four and four, you would therefore want to start studying in August at the latest for an October sitting, or January for a March sitting. However, this metric is not applicable across the board as some students prefer to 'cram'.
The 'Solicitor Olympics'
For students travelling from outside of Dublin, a stay at the Red Cow Moran (the venue for the exams) is often necessitated. Walking into this Dublin 22 hotel either side of an exam, an impartial outsider would be forgiven for thinking that they have just stumbled on some form of solicitor Olympics.
The scene is often a hectic one, with students ferreting around the foyer, densely highlighted notes clasped firmly in hand, striding back and forth mumbling judgments to themselves in a manner not dissimilar to how athletes at track meetings warm up, pausing only for jittery sips of an Americano or bottle of Lucozade.
After nightfall, things quieten down as students lock themselves away to revise in their rooms, pausing only to devour some room service or to dash down to the reception to hurriedly thank the Deliveroo driver. On a practical front, it is worth remembering to bring some practical provisions, the quantity and scale of which of course depending on the length of your stay.
I brought coffee, bananas, UHT milk, wine gums and gallons of water to help me through a week-long stay and would undoubtedly have been lost without these little comforts. I would also probably have had to declare bankruptcy if I had to bring my own, given the price of coffee onsite and the rate at which I consume it while buried in the books.
The Actual Exam
This might fly in the face of everything you have ever been told, but the exams themselves are not that bad. Sure, the preparation involved is far greater than other exams and the logistical side of things can be a bit of a drag but at the end of the day, most people doing these exams are not doing their first law exams. The usual methodology applies: Issue Law Application Conclusion (ILAC) for problem questions.
Having to answer five questions in three hours is a bit of a drag and you may find yourself getting quite fatigued after question three or four, however, the paramountcy of answering five questions cannot be stressed enough. It is exceedingly rare that a student will pass after getting, for example, full marks in two questions, ten in a third and not answering the final two questions, the FE-1s simply do not work like that.
Time-keeping is a concern, as it always is in law exams. Successive reports issued by examiners following the FE-1s always stress the importance of planning one's exam out in full prior to beginning to ensure that a balanced approach is taken in respect of the exam as a whole.
From a purely anecdotal perspective, I found it very useful to read through the paper in its entirety at the outset, and to splurge all of the case names I remembered onto the booklet beside each question to which they applied. In this way, when the brain fog set in after the two hour mark, I was able to jog my memory, ensuring that no vital precedents went unmentioned.
In summation, it is fair to say that a fair few items and attributes are necessary to guarantee safe passage through the FE-1s. Therefore, the value of good preparation should not be underestimated. And of course, good luck!
The Companies Act 2014: 2018 Edition is available for purchase here.