Not sure whether or not you should take up Legal Studies in Year 11 and 12? Unsure of what the workload might look like? Or perhaps you’re doing HSC Legal Studies right now, and need some more guidance with how to structure your essay.

We have compiled this useful guide on some of the most frequently asked questions for Legal Studies and hopefully, it will be of use to you!

1. Is Legal Studies for me?

Are you interested in the Australian legal system and how the law influences the most vulnerable groups in society? Are you keen on lots of classroom discussions about legal issues? If so, then Legal Studies sounds like a very suitable subject for you! I personally found HSC Legal Studies to be an immensely rewarding subject, where I got to learn more about the most pressing issues facing our country. However, Legal Studies is definitely not everybody’s cup of tea. Like any HSC subject, it involves hard work. But hard work in the form of copious amounts of readings per week, a lot of writing (the most out of all HSC subjects) and intense memorisation. If you can’t take on stacks of readings and analytical writing, Legal Studies might not be for you.

Still unsure? There is no harm in picking Legal Studies – you can always choose to drop it if it is not for you. But who knows? It might even turn out to be your best subject!

2. How long should my essays be?

For the Crime essay, the Board of Studies recommends around 600 to 800 words (5-6 pages); and for the longer, 25-marker elective essays, around 1000 to 1200 words (8-10 pages) is recommended. These numbers are not absolute, but a rough estimate. However, I would say that writing anything less than what is recommended by the Board is Studies is a big risk. This is because it is very difficult to formulate a convincing argument with adequate substantiation and evidence within such a small word count.

In fact, many top HSC Legal Studies students completely disregard the word count range and go above and beyond of what is expected of them. Generally, they would write about 1000 words for the Crime essay, and 1800 words each for their 25-marker elective essays. I would highly recommend doing so as well. This might sound like a lot, but in doing so, they have added more depth and breadth to their arguments, thus composing a more logical and sustained essay.

The bottom line is: essays usually hover around 600-800 words for Crime and 1000-1200 for the 25-marker essays. Many high achieving HSC Legal Studies students go above the word count in order to add more analysis. However, it ultimately comes down to quality, rather than quantity.

3. How do I structure my essays?

The structure of any essay is imperative, but especially so when it comes to Legal Studies. You can have a beautifully crafted essay with up-to-date media articles, strong analysis, all the right legislation and a convincing argument. However, if your structure is poor, this alone can even be enough to push your essay down to a Band 5 level. Generally, the structure of a HSC Legal Studies essay is the same as for any English essay. The main distinction is that your quotes and techniques are replaced with legislation, cases and media reports! Other aspects of the structure that should be taken into account include:

Introduction

  • Thesis statement: directly answer the question and state your position, but remember you must be able to back it up throughout your essay
  • If the question contains a quote or an extract, use it in the first sentence STRAIGHTAWAY
  • State the reasons for your stance. This will usually be 3-4 reasons which will form the foundation for your body paragraphs
  • Concluding sentence to very briefly sum up your introduction and pave the way for your next 3-4 arguments

Body

I used the TEEEL method with my body paragraphs in HSC Legal Studies essays.

  • T – Topic sentence: introduce your point and explicitly relate it to the question. Use the language of the question!
  • E – Explain: explain your point with facts. Why are you taking this stance? For what reasons?
  • E – Expand: expand and elaborate on your explanation with other supporting facts e.g. legal opinions
  • E – Example: provide examples to support your explanation and elaboration. Use LCMs (Legislation, Cases, Media)
  • L – Linking sentence

Conclusion

Sum up all of your arguments and how it relates to the question. You can do so by rephrasing your initial thesis statement! Make sure you DO NOT introduce anything new in the conclusion.

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4. Where can I find Band 6 responses/exemplars?

It is also worth asking your Legal Studies teacher if they have any exemplar essays from past students. They are there to help you, and they want to see you do well, so make the most of their assistance and advice! Besides your teacher, the Board of Studies has been compiling some Band 6 exemplar responses from the HSC exam into a workbook. They are available for purchase from the website, but many local libraries have bought them for their ‘HSC Resources’ section.

2015 HSC Legal Studies workbook

2014 HSC Legal Studies workbook

2013 HSC Legal Studies workbook

2012 HSC Legal Studies workbook

2011 HSC Legal Studies workbook

Board of Studies Legal Studies standards materials – a lot of these essays and responses are quite outdated, so instead of using them for their evidence, utilise them for their structure and use of language. Think to yourself: does their argument ‘flow’?

5. Do I need to watch the news everyday?

Although it is not required of you to watch the news everyday, I would certainly advise that you are at least reading news articles in order to keep up with issues relevant to your topic/s. Too often, students use out of date legislation from 5 years ago, when there has already been several updates. For example, you need to be aware of legislation surrounding bail laws in NSW. They have been amended over 80 times! I can assure you that the examiner will not be too pleased if you used the Bail Act 1978 (NSW) without mentioning the newer Bail Amendment Act 2014 (NSW)!

The same thing applies for cases. Try to flick through a few news websites once a day to check for any updates on possible cases you can use. The AustLII website is one of the most useful resources when I was studying HSC Legal Studies. A few of my favourite news companies that are always bookmarked include:

Notes from the HSC marking centre often suggest that the stronger responses integrate recent cases and documents throughout the response. So in saying that, make sure your evidence is all cutting edge. You might find that a lot of news articles can overlap and say the same thing. But it is still a great idea to read over all of them, as they are all written by different people with different experiences and life circumstances. This will enable you to gain a more well-rounded nuanced perspective on the issue, which will help in developing a sophisticated argument!

Good luck!

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Frances Tso recently graduated from Sydney Girls High School in 2016 and is known among her friends as the crazy dog lady without a dog. With an avid interest in the dynamics of global change, she decided her HSC major work was not enough to quench her thirst as to how regional interactions impact political and cultural relationships. So, she has decided to study International Studies at UNSW, majoring in International Relations. In her spare time, Frances is either teaching violin, re-watching episodes of Friends for the twentieth time, or perfecting the art on how to be a dog aficionado.