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How to Get a Distinction on the GDL

It’s hard. There’s no doubt about that. Cramming seven disparate legal areas into one year, from scratch, is a new type of challenge. Passing it at all is a strong achievement, especially if you’re at a course provider that sets particularly high academic standards.

Getting a Distinction is a sign that you’ve got the intellectual nous and work ethic required to succeed at a top law firm or chambers (and especially the latter). So how can you maximise your chances of getting that coveted Distinction?


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1. Revise smart

So you’ve been told your exam will cover every topic under the sun? Well then, good thing you don’t need to answer all the questions.

Be brutal. If a certain topic hasn’t turned up in the last few past papers, bin it. Choose five or six compartmentalised topics that have popped up regularly in the last six years’ worth of past papers and revise them into the ground. Ignore everything else.

Don’t worry about it. There’s no point being able to answer seven questions perfectly if you can only answer four – those three topics you’ve revised so hard for are now simply wasted time you’ll never get back.

A friend of mine got a 76 in Contract by focusing exclusively on offer, acceptance, and estoppel. Sure, she wouldn’t have had a chances in hell on five out of nine of the questions on offer, but she didn’t care. She only needed to do four and judged it perfectly.

2. Problem questions or essays?

In some exams you’ll have a choice between problem questions or essays. You’ve clearly got your own preference as to which is better for you and, in an ideal world, you’d never have to go near the other option.

However, if you follow step 1. above, you will most likely have to do a mixture of both. So practice both. Find a past problem question, do it to time, and then think about how an essay could have covered the same ground and write an essay plan. It’s two for the price of one.

3. Know the cases

It is tedious. It is boring. It is not original advice. But it is so, so important. Know every case mentioned in the lectures and notes you’ve been given on your chosen topic.

Make flashcards, write lists, sum every single case up in a twelve word sentence and memorise it, whatever works for you. You will need to put in the hours – another friend of mine who massively underestimated the GDL’s workload was simply memorising cases for 15 hours a day by the end of her revision period. She got a Distinction.

4. Think about the question

Most people’s tactic when facing a GDL exam is to go in with six or seven essays memorised word for word and tailor them to the question/slice and dice them for problem questions. As far as it goes, this is a pretty good plan of attack, and follows on from steps 1 to 3 above.

The crucial spin that will take this tactic from a Very Competent to a Distinction is that phrase “tailor them to the question.” What is the question actually asking you to do?

If you can take the cases bursting out of your brain along with the arguments you’ve so carefully memorised and corral them into a clear, interesting, concise argument, you’re home and dry.

It doesn’t have to be original (although that would obviously be amazing, and congratulations if you manage to pull an original argument off in 45 minutes in an exam hall) but if it is well-argued, well-sourced and directly addresses the question, you’re already in the top 10% or so.

5. Show off with academic articles

The above four steps are the important ones. This final one is simply if you’re particularly keen.

Go through your lecture notes, your handouts, the textbook, and find the main four or five academic articles in the topics you’re working with.

Don’t read the whole article – that would be a monstrous waste of your time – just read the abstract (and maybe the introduction and conclusion) of each article. Then, write a two sentence summary of the article’s main argument, and maybe a short direct quote.

If you can work that summary, the quote, and the academic author in your essays or problem question answers that instantly elevates you above the competition. You look smart, authoritative, and enthusiastic about the law.

What a relief for your examiner, facing the 126th script of her week on exactly the same Secret Trusts essay, to come across a student who has done further in-depth research, remembered it, and deftly deployed it to bolster her otherwise conventional argument.

Learn more about completing the GDL with these guides:

Author: Oliver Jackson

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