Receiving a bad mark in HSC Legal Studies might seem like the end of the world.

When you get home, you just want to throw your exam paper under the bed (read: into an incinerator) to wipe it from memory.

But stop! Don’t do that!

In reality, it’s a well-needed wake-up call because it’s the perfect chance for you to capitalise on your feedback, in order to pinpoint exactly how to improve your marks the next time around.

Rather than destroying your paper, it should be used as a set of personalised tips and pointers on how to make sure you boost your marks in your next exam.

Step 1: Understand Your Feedback

You must first understand exactly why you had marks deducted, and this should start with your teacher.

I always recommend students to approach their teacher for a short one-on-one session in order to do a few things.

Do not feel like this is a waste of your teachers time, and that you’re “asking too many questions”. In fact, teachers can be very appreciate of the fact that you are showing initiative and are taking your studies seriously.

  • Communicate any questions you might have.
    • For example, clarification on certain terminology in the exam, explaining what precise cases or legislation your teacher expected, and so on.
  • Ask for further feedback.
    • Often the one or two sentences you’ve been given at the bottom of your 5 page long essay just don’t cut it in terms of evaluation. Request that your teacher elaborate on where you went wrong, in what sense you were incorrect, which specific sentences or phrases, etc.
  • Ask about how you can improve.
    • This is when you ask your teacher for solid ways to improve your essay. For example, case studies you should have included, certain arguments, or perhaps how you could have structured your responses more clearly.

Step 2: Analyse Syllabus and Assessment Criteria

While you have already spoken to your teacher and gotten personalised feedback, you can now supplement this with your syllabus and assessment criteria.

By your syllabus, it’s the booklet of dot-points and requirements you should have received at the beginning of the year – which you should already be quite familiar with.

If not (you really should know it at this point), the HSC Legal Studies syllabus it is downloadable here.

By assessment criteria, I mean the requirements that are written at the top of your exam. For example:

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 5.14.32 pm

With this information, you should be able to do 2 very important things:

1. Contextualise the Marker’s Feedback

The first of which is to be able to contextualise the marker’s feedback.

It’s often difficult to understand your teacher’s evaluation of your work if you’re not clear on the specific criteria at hand. So, the syllabus should outline what content you should have included and learnt, and the assessment criteria is an overall list of requirements you should fulfil for full marks.

2. Evaluate Yourself

The second thing you should be doing is honest self-evaluation.

Yes, the teacher’s feedback is incredibly important and should be your framework for improvement, however, you will not always be able to obtain teacher feedback on every practice essay you do.

Since you will be doing a lot of past papers on your own throughout the HSC process, being able to critically evaluate your own work as if you are a marker is crucial for you to improve on your own.

Firstly, rate your understanding on a scale of 0 to 5:

0 = If I was asked this in an exam, I’d get 0.
1 = I might scrape a pity mark for mentioning the right word.
2 = I understand the gist of the dot-point, but am unsure of some parts.
3 = I know the answer, but can’t explain it to you.
4 = I can explain the answer, but I don’t know if I can write it down.
5 = If I was asked this in an exam, I would DEFINITELY get full marks.

Then, highlight any dot points which received a score less than or equal to 3:

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Scores less than or equal to 3 mean that you should revise these syllabus dot points before your next exam!

Step 3: Reflection

Go through your exam and have a look at your responses. Look at why you lost the marks, and use the following rating to sort our your incorrect answers.

1. Section Specific Issues

Were your bad marks all from a specific part of the exam? For example, did you lose a lot of marks from multiple choice? Short answer? Long answer?

9 times out of 10, students will find one part of the HSC Legal Studies exam especially difficult.

By honing in on that section and reflecting on why you struggle with that is key to improving. What is it about that part that you are finding difficult to grasp?

Doing practice exams in the future just on that part of the exam is a sure fire way to bump your marks back up.

2. Lack of Preparation

Were you caught off-guard by the exam? You didn’t know what to expect?

If this was the case, you should look over a variety of past exams, from all levels.

By this I mean HSC Legal Studies papers from various institutions (NESA, Catholic Schools Association, etc), trials papers, past exam papers from your school, past essay questions, etc – to prepare you for any type of exam that comes your way.

3. Lack of Knowledge

Were you unable to recall certain information? Were you lacking in information in a specific area e.g. Crime, or Human Rights?

This calls for revising, or even adding additional information to your study notes on that topic.

Expanding your knowledge on that area may include searching up recent events or developments in that legal area, or adding a few more case studies to have under your belt as part of your Legal Studies arsenal.

4. Lack of Exam Skills

Did you run out of time? Fall short on essay structure?

Doing timed exams whilst imitating exam conditions could serve to consolidate your skills.

This will make you more familiar with how time should be divided in an exam (which may differ from person to person – so you have to know yourself!), which section you want to complete first, how to quickly draft and then write an essay in under 30 minutes, etc.

Step 4: Re-Write and Re-Mark

The most crucial part is to find out whether or not you have bridged all the ‘holes’ in your exam.

I always highly recommend students to re-sit the exam in the exact same exam-conditions, and then if possible, request it to be re-marked by your teacher (not officially, but to give you feedback). This will consolidate any skills you have picked up, as well as a ‘double-check’.

Alternatively, you can give it to a friend to mark against the official marking criteria. Make sure that they know they need to be honest with you – it’s the only way you’re going to improve!

Step 5: Relax

I know I’ve just listed a bunch of ways to improve your academics and your marks in HSC Legal Studies, but at the end of the day, you are a human being – we all have good days and bad days.

The best plan of action is to take initiative and make sure your next HSC Legal Studies exam is better.

More importantly, you should take care of yourself because nothing good comes from being overly stressed and highly strung.

If you find that you’re not coping with exam-related stress, both Lifeline Australia (13 11 14) or Headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation (accessible here).

Looking for extra help with HSC Legal Studies?

We pride ourselves on our inspirational HSC Legal Studies coaches and mentors!

We offer tutoring and mentoring for Years K-12 in a variety of subjects, with personalised lessons conducted one-on-one in your home or at our state of the art campus in Hornsby!

To find out more and get started with an inspirational tutor and mentor get in touch today!

Give us a ring on 1300 267 888, email us at info@artofsmart.com.au or check us out on Facebook!


Sophia Zou completed the HSC all the way back in 2013, however she considers it her mission to help students make the most of their final years at high school. Her interests include political science, Simon and Garfunkel, and pretending to be a tea aficionado. Alongside tutoring at Art of Smart Education, she spends her time playing the piano and studying Government & IR and Languages at the University of Sydney.