Practical exercise (14.2.2)

Rewording the question

Practical exercise 14.2.2: Rewording the question

There a couple of jobs that you need to be able to do in order for your essay to be successful. Firstly, you must answer the question. This should go without saying but it is surprising how many essays fail to fulfil this fundamental requirement. Secondly, you must be able to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant content. These two points are closely related because it should not be possible to use irrelevant material to answer the question. One of the most frequent errors that is made by students is to filter for relevance on the basis of what the question is ‘about’ rather than what question it ‘asks’. The distinction between ‘about’ and ‘asks’ is discussed in section 14.2.1 of Legal Skills. If you reword the question carefully, it should help you to focus on what it ‘asks’ and this should enable you to be effective in your selection of content. Try to identify the questions that are asked by the following essay titles. You should be able to make an attempt at this even if you have little prior knowledge of the subject matter.

  1. The postal rule is outdated and has no place in modern contract law. Discuss.

Think carefully about what it is you are being asked to discuss here. The question is not concerned so much with what the postal rule is (although an explanation of the rule would have a place in the essay) but what role it plays. The way that the question is worded suggests that the postal rule was once valuable but that this is no longer the case. You could break this down into a series of questions:

  • What was purpose of the postal rule when it was first introduced?
  • Does that purpose still exist today?
  • If not, what has changed to make the postal rule obsolete?
  1. If the United Kingdom has a constitution at all, its central pillar is parliamentary sovereignty. Evaluate this statement with particular reference to the European Union.

In essence, this question is asking a very simple question about the role of parliamentary sovereignty. It could be separated into two questions:

  • What role does parliamentary sovereignty play in the UK constitution?
  • Had the role changed due to membership of the European Union?
  1. Outline the approaches that a judge may take to statutory interpretation and consider their relevance following the enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998.

This is another question that has caused many students to go astray by focusing too strongly on the first aspect of the question and dealing with the second part of the question in too little detail or not dealing with it at all. This may be because the first part of the question requires a more descriptive response which makes it easier to tackle but, again, it is essential to remember that a question that has two parts requires a response to both of those parts and to fail to do so is to give up the marks that are available for that part of the question. It is better to make an attempt at all parts of the question even if you are not sure that you can deal with them all to the same standard as you will get more marks for an imperfect attempt than you will for no attempt at all.

  • What are the approaches to statutory interpretation?
  • How are they affected by the Human Rights Act 1998?
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