Our contributor, Caitlin, has given us her top tips for succeeding on the challenging barrister training course. Read on to find out how to do your best on the BPTC!
The BPTC can be a pretty demanding course. The hours spent reading can be long; the workload can be heavy; the course can be difficult. I think we’ve all sat and wondered how we convinced ourselves to sign up for this, even if we are destined to be barristers, but it’s not all bleak and if you are ready for it, you can do it. In this article, you’ll find some tips on how to get started on the BPTC and some advice on staying ahead. Just to remind you: you’ve got this!
Firstly, for criminal and civil litigation, textbooks are your life. The syllabus tells you exactly what you need to know (top tip: you can access the current syllabus on the Bar Standards Board website to see what it looks like). It outlines every paragraph you need to read and every case you must be aware of. You can also access the White Book on Westlaw and Blackstones Criminal Practice on LexisNexis, if you have an academic sign in or a paid membership.
The best way to get ahead on your notes is to start compiling them from the beginning of your course, if not earlier, if you are able to do so. I read the textbooks and used the previous syllabus to take notes. My university provides information for re-sitting that outlines any changes to the current syllabus, so if yours offers this, it is definitely something to consider. Alternatively, you could read through and compare all of your notes to the new syllabus as a revision tool.
The best thing you can do is buckle down and start to write notes about each paragraph. An example of how to take these notes is by taking down commentary (because the White Book and Blackstones are full of commentary) in note form to try to identify the important bits to remember and noting down any law/regulation/rule verbatim to avoid any confusion later.
If you have access to a term planner, use this to plan ahead. You will need to factor time for each subject you study to make sure you devote enough to each. You never want to enter a class underprepared – your lecturer won’t appreciate this, and you will have wasted a session that could have helped you.
Take each topic or syllabus area and make sure you have the work fully planned out before you enter into any lectures or seminars. You can use the lectures and seminars to build on your understanding, cut out anything you do not need and develop each topic. You will need to cut down on the work, as a fully written out syllabus area can be five to ten pages long, and they are difficult to work through quickly. This can massively slow you down during revision and when you have different classes and exams to deal with, it’s definitely not something you want to have to stress over.
There are hundreds of ways to cut down information so it will depend which way is best for you. You could cut down the information that you already know; highlight and then consolidate anything you know you have trouble understanding; or rewrite the work in your own words to ensure you’re thinking each point through – again, you can do this in any way that is best for you.
It is important to rely on your tutors and listen to their opinions on how to manage the course if they offer anything such as advice on which topics to prioritise or other useful tips. They have watched students do what you are doing, so try to appreciate their advice.
At the same time, don’t be afraid of asking your tutors for help if you need it. You might help other students by asking a question that another student also has but isn’t confident enough to ask
Another thing to remember, is that Qualifying Sessions do exist, and they do matter. You must get 12 sessions in before you graduate, though your call ceremony reception may count towards this (it will not count for Middle Temple from July 2020, but as a Middle Templar, I cannot speak for the others).
Look at your Inn’s calendar as early as possible (I chased up with Middle Temple as an Out of London Student who needed to book train tickets as early as possible) and decide what you need to be at (for example, education weekends or introductory weekends where you can gain a lot of points), or what you would like to do and try to plan your work with this.
Obviously, London students have a bit of an advantage with travelling, but no matter where you come from, you can still work around this. Sit at your desk for an hour before you go to Inn and promise to leave when the event finishes (or go to the pub for networking and do an extra hour tomorrow! Mental health matters!) or do an hour of work on the train (I’m sure you can watch Suits later). It is important to get these sessions in, but it is so important you work alongside them because this will reduce the pressure overall.
Another point that I want to make for OOLs (out of London-ers) is that you have to be prepared financially for what this entails. Depending on where you are studying the BPTC, your ticket to London could be expensive. Plan ahead and be aware of these costs, because while you may get a free meal, you might need to get accommodation or travel money as well. I would suggest having some money saved for this separately, because you have a lot on your plate already, and there’s no reason to be financially strained as well.
A key element of staying ahead is maintaining motivation. Staying motivated can be difficult because often once it’s gone it can be challenging to get it back. You will probably already know how you study best, but often staying productive is a good way to keep your spirits up, and those weekends away at the Inn are really brilliant as you can mingle and enjoy the evening or be inspired by the talks.
Another tip is to look at study YouTube videos or Instagram accounts, which often upload advice on staying positive, or advice on how to make notes, as well as many other different videos and posts to get you back on track. Alongside this, there are also the classic motivators you could try, such as taking a short walk, switching up your study space or even rewarding yourself for finishing particularly challenging sections.
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At the end of the day, every other barrister has managed it, and if you got here you must be somewhat ready for this. It is a short, intensive course, but it is completely manageable. Forgetting the work – the course is brilliant; the people you meet, the knowledge you gain and the places you get to visit all make it worth it. Just remember, you can do it!
Words: Caitlin Ord
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