Legal Studies - Crime Essay

Perhaps you’re an aspiring lawyer. Maybe you did well in stage 5 commerce. Or it’s possible that you’ve spent a few too many hours binge watching your favourite legal dramas- Suits and How to Get Away With Murder. For whatever reason, you have picked to study one of the most content-heavy, yet interesting subjects on offer for your HSC. Welcome back to another CLEAR blog. Today, we will be channeling our inner Annalise Keating by discussing strategies on how to approach that pesky 15 mark extended response question in perhaps the most interesting topic of legal- Crime. 

The 15 mark response is unique. It is technically shorter than the other essays, yet more than twice the length of a traditional short answer response. Worth 15 marks, this is certainly a decent sized response, and a great opportunity to show your knowledge of the crime syllabus. Aim to write at least 3 pages for this section of the paper to show a depth of knowledge. 

Prepare your notes 
The most important thing you need to do to nail the essay is: take the time to develop your knowledge of both the syllabus dot points and the course themes. The 15 mark response typically requires you to consider a particular area of the syllabus, and show your knowledge of this topic by evaluating it  against a course theme. For example, the 2020 question required you to consider part 3 of the syllabus, the trial process, and relate it to the course theme of moral and ethical standards of society. When making your notes, rather than simply gathering a plethora of cases and legislation randomly under each point, it would be far better to also take the time to draw links between each dot point and the most appropriate course themes. For instance, under your notes for the criminal investigation process, spend some time specifically drawing your attention to relevant course themes such as the role of discretion, or the ethical and moral standards of society. Use mind maps and tables to help organise this content, and make sure you cover your ground with appropriate cases, legislation, and media reports for each of the topics. 

The better examples to add to your notes will be the more controversial areas of law, as these will provide you with the tools to make the most justified evaluations throughout your extended response. For instance, under defences to criminal charges, the example of self-defence would give you far less to talk about when compared with the partial defence of extreme provocation. It is important to be selective when choosing examples to back up your points, as the topics that cause varying opinions and perspectives to emerge will often be the most adaptable under exam conditions. 

Break down the question 
When you see the 15 mark question, the most important thing to do is to break it down. Take a moment to ask yourself, what content relates to the question? What syllabus dot points need to be considered? Plan to structure your response around the most relevant syllabus dot points. For instance, in 2020- the question asked you to draw your attention to the trial process. To score better in this part of the paper, do not try to discuss every single element of the trial process, but rather pick around 3 subsections of this topic from the syllabus you find to be the most contentious and relevant to the theme in question- in this case the theme was moral and ethical standards. Make sure that each argument is relatable  back to the theme required by the question, and you should be good to go. An example of an argument which would be highly relevant to this particular question would be the topic of defences- as some of them are fairly complex and give you a lot of scope when you evaluate their ability to uphold moral and ethical standards (the theme). 

Much like the discursive essay in Paper 2, you do not necessarily need to come to a solid, one-sided conclusion. What often distinguishes the better responses in this section is the student’s ability to make constant evaluations throughout. For the 2020 question, you do not need to 100% agree or disagree that the trial process as a whole is able to uphold the ethical standards of society. You may come to different conclusions for different parts of the question- for instance, you may find that while juries effectively reflect the ethical standards of society, pleas and charge negotiations fall short. The criminal law is complex and multifaceted, and it would be rare for a student to be either 100% satisfied or dissatisfied in their evaluation. The most important thing is that evaluations are indeed made throughout the response, and they also need to be well informed- justified through cases, media and legislation. 

This question may at first seem overwhelming, but it is very possible to score well in this area of the paper. To aim for the top band, take time to plan your response, and structure it based around the syllabus, with well informed evaluations made throughout. 

Pro tip: Most students are able to dedicate slightly more time than recommended for this section of the paper, by spending less than the recommended 30 minutes for the multiple choice questions. Be strategic with how you devote your time under exam conditions.


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