Nuggets of Wisdom for Smashing your BPTC
Nuggets of Wisdom for Smashing your BPTC
Written by Brian Sanya Mondoh, Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).
The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) requires sound advocacy skills and the ability to memorise copious amounts of information. I am writing this article to share my techniques for ‘smashing the bar’ on a first sitting.
Some precautionary comments, my advice focuses on the three Central Exam Board (‘CEB’) papers i.e. Ethics, Civil Litigation and Criminal Litigation. Please do not take my advice word for word as some techniques may vary individually and this is based on my own personal experiences.
If you are keen about the goings-on on the BPTC, you should conduct research and establish that the Ethics assessment is the most dynamic paper and you will need to gain a real understanding of it. It is the easiest to pass if you get to grips with the syllabus but at the same time the easiest to fail if you underestimate it. My approach to the Ethics paper was based more on exam technique than knowledge. Nevertheless, you will need to know the Bar Standards Board (‘BSB’) handbook, the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the Farquharson guidelines backwards. The examiner will challenge your brain with technical points and nuances. To scoop marks you will be required to recite Core Duties (‘CDs’) verbatim, Conduct Rules (‘RCs’), Guidance to Core Duties (‘GCs’) and Outcomes (‘OCs’) amongst other things all in the space of two hours. The examiner will also be marking you on your grammar and legible handwriting, as the new syllabus consists of six Short Answer Questions (SAQs).
You may find it helpful to use multiple memory aids and learning techniques in preparation for the Ethics assessment. I had the ten CDs set as wallpapers on my phone and iPad. I made it a habit to skim through the CDs whenever I accessed my gadgets and kept reciting them in a bid to commit them to memory. I also created storyboards in my head during my commute to and from University. For example, each bus stop on my route had a CD and relevant RCs, GCs and OCs attached to it. As a result, I could picture a bus stop and a floodgate of information would stream out. In the weeks running up to the exam, I drew mind maps and flow charts to illustrate my ‘bus commute’. I constantly discussed the revision material with my mates and we ended up teaching each other. Two weeks before the exam and thanks to making friends from other providers, I was doing past papers and SGS questions from other providers under ‘exam-strict’ timed conditions. Please note principles in the Ethics assessment do not change. The ‘Cab Rank Rule’, for example, will forever be the same, the trick is in the application of your knowledge to various problem questions. Strictly time yourself while revising and be flexible in applying the ethical principles. You cannot ‘question spot’ the Ethics paper. It needs precision and sound judgment to ensure you understand the question, weigh out the correct number of CDs, RCs, GCs and OCs etc. to apply to an SAQ without waffling or wasting time.
CIVIL LITIGATION AND CRIMINAL LITIGATION
These two assessments can easily be termed as the most feared on the BPTC. Firstly, because of the 50 examinable topics on the syllabus split between the two i.e. 22 in Civil litigation and 28 in Criminal litigation. Secondly, the volume of pinpointed reading and long inundating text of the practitioner texts. Thirdly, the nightmare of answering 75 ‘Single Best Answer’ questions in each assessment. If you have not yet developed a working relationship with the White Book Civil Procedure (‘the Whitebook’) and Blackstones Criminal Procedure (‘Blackstones’), you had better start the relationship sooner than later. As a precaution, past students or those who pass the assessments on first sitting will ‘shout about’ how they made it without using the practitioner texts. In my experience, the BSB set questions were word for word based on White Book and Blackstones commentary. For instance, I did not find Norwich Pharmacal Orders anywhere else other than in the White Book’s commentary or thorough case explanation for Criminal legal principles if not in Blackstones. The assessments are designed to test aspiring practitioners and as a result, it is an obvious fact that the syllabus and / or indicative reading will be based on the two. You just have to eat it, live it and love it! Detailed supplements can be Stuart Sime’s ‘A Practical Approach to Civil Procedure’ and City Law School’s Criminal Litigation Manual.
I stuck by these books for the majority of the year. However, as a quick and cheeky memory fix, I used some reputable revision books to commit the voluminous information to memory. To reduce last minute drag, try to have your notes ready early. Spend quality time revising the syllabuses and creating memory aids before the exam window. For Civil and Criminal litigation, I studied in different rooms everyday, I color coded my notes and recorded voice notes. I also made flow charts and discussed with my tutors and other law students outside of the BPTC. Simply put, do whatever works for you. You need to have a ‘long haul’ approach. Please note; Civil Procedure Rules (‘CPR’) tie in with your Opinion Writing (‘OPW’), Drafting, Resolution of Disputes Out of Court (‘RDOC’) and Civil Advocacy. Maximise your class prep and do your own work. Criminal Procedure Rules (‘CrimPR’) especially on difficult topics like ‘Bad Character evidence and Hearsay evidence’ tie in with your Conference and Criminal Advocacy. Do your level best to get the fuller picture of procedure earlier on in the course. Similar to Ethics, do as many past papers and SGS questions as you can. Do not ‘question spot’ as all topics are interlinked. In conclusion, be on the lookout for BPTC syllabus updates. In my year, we had a December 2016 and February 2017 update and the Civil Appeal’s regime was also updated in or about October 2016.
Few BPTC students will need this reminder. The BPTC is pressure filled and challenging. As an aspiring Barrister, you have to keep your eye on the ball and work hard to get the job done. I would say to every BPTC student, get the ‘Pomodoro’ or an ‘Apple timer’. I got this advice from a Barrister and law tutor that I follow on twitter and it was life changing. The Pomodoro timer keeps you focused by completely shutting out distractions and breaking study time into short and productive intervals of 25 minutes with five minute breaks and a long 25 minute break after one hour of study. It enables you to do more and maximise you time and / or constrained timeframes. I started off in February 2017 at 16 Pomodoro’s a day, that’s an equivalent of eight study hours a day. When starting it was a bit of a strain but you quickly get the hang of it. Come March 2017, I was doing 20 Pomodoro’s a day i.e.10 study hours a day, seven days a week! I cannot fully express the benefits of the Pomodoro and I am still using it in my post BPTC work.
It is hardly necessary to emphasise the importance of teamwork and camaraderie on the BPTC. Your previous qualification, be it LLM, LLB or GDL and your previous university has little bearing on your BPTC performance. It takes nothing away from you to have humility and to be nice to others in your cohort. In addition, it may be easier said than done but always be positive and look after your health. Finally, not only will you gain an invaluable set of skills, you will become an individual with a switched on mindset and exceptional professional conduct.
Brian Sanya Mondoh
Grade: Very Competent
Called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn, 2017
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