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School of Law

10 Things I Learned as a First-Year Law Student

Starting university can be equally intimidating and exciting experience, especially for first-year students navigating a demanding workload and new environment. In this blog article, second-year law student Vandy Widyalankara shares ten tips on making the most of your first year at Queen Mary.

Vandy at the Graduate Centre with London skyline in the background

I can still remember how nervous I was when I first came to Queen Mary. Sitting in the historic Great Hall, our professors welcomed us to the course and enthusiastically previewed what was to come. They explained how the school received an influx of applications and that it had been a particularly difficult admissions process that year. We were the first cohort of freshers on campus after the pandemic. As we started our first weeks, I encountered many challenges, from adapting to a new country and culture, to making sense of my confusing timetable and navigating my way around a sprawling campus. But before I knew it, I had found my place at Queen Mary and within the School of Law. 

While being a fresher can be an intimidating and challenging experience, it is equally lively and exciting. As you start your journey here at Queen Mary, consider this list of ten things I’ve learned in my first year.  

  1. Be an active participant. Everyone is in the same boat, don’t let your nerves keep you from being involved. Tutorials can be a new and intimidating setting for a lot of students, but this is where some of the best learning and discussions happen. It’s your chance to apply what you’ve learned to real-world scenarios and better understand the material by testing your knowledge with your peers. You’ll find that your tutors are also keen to stretch your thinking by challenging your reasoning and judgement. Take the opportunity in tutorials to expand your perspective and deepen your knowledge of the law. It’s okay if you don’t always have the right answer, you’ll learn through participating! Canalside in Mile End and a blue house boat
  2. Familiarise yourself with the lecture content before the lecture is delivered. Many of my classmates made lecture outlines by using the slideshow as a guide. Most lecturers make the lecture content and resources available to you weeks in advance, so you can prepare this beforehand. Most lectures don’t require any preparatory work, so don’t feel that you have to know the material beforehand. However, even simply dedicating 5 minutes beforehand to get an overview of what is being covered in the lecture, can help to set a roadmap for your lecture notes.  
  3. Make an effort to frequently review your lecture notes and material. It’s especially helpful to review your lecture notes within the same day or same week that your lecture was delivered. Sometimes you don’t catch everything the lecturer has said, or you’d like to revisit a topic that you didn’t quite understand. After your lecture, you have the perfect opportunity to test your understanding, fill any gaps in your notes and solidify what you’ve learned during the lecture. You can also try to revise what you learned and maybe even practice the active recall method! Top Tip: There is a function on your QReview lecture recordings that enables you to find key words mentioned in the lecture. If you click on the lecture transcript on the top right of the lecture recording page, you can select key words and be directed to the appropriate timestamps where they are used.Screenshot of QReview lecture notes
  4. Go to office hours. Don’t be afraid to ask your tutors questions! They are enthusiastic to answer your questions and appreciate seeing students engage with the content. Office hours can be a great opportunity to clarify concepts you may not understand, go beyond the textbook and gain a deeper academic perspective on the subject. I truly wish I hadn’t been so hesitant to ask further questions of my lecturer and tutors, because the opportunity to learn and dig deeper into the content is invaluable. 
  5. Read the ‘further reading. Although as law students we are assigned ample required reading, it is incredibly useful to review the additional reading and resources that are shared. Further reading helps to broaden your understanding of topics whilst providing solid content to enhance your essays. Your teachers will provide you with resources like academic articles and legal judgements to enhance your learning. Typically, these resources can be found on QMplus or your tutorial handouts. For extra points, it’s great to do your own research and find interesting academic articles and cases related to your learning. Clocktower in Mile End Campus at night with London skyline in the background
  6. Attend law events. Networking events and socials may be daunting, especially if you don’t know many people yet. However, it's quite common to attend events alone and it can be the perfect opportunity to meet new people and make friends with those in your course. The law school hosts numerous speakers, panels and academic events where you can network with experts in various legal fields, other students and faculty. Likewise, there is never a shortage of networking and learning opportunities provided by our various law societies. Interested in learning about the day in the life of a commercial lawyer? The Law Society will surely have a guest panel covering the topic. Want to know more about the impact of environmental issues on human rights? The Pro Bono Society will have you covered.  
  7. Be involved in activities outside of law! It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking you should only join societies related to law (trust me I’ve been there). But university is the perfect opportunity to explore new activities and expand your horizon. Try to have a few hobbies on the side that you enjoy doing outside of law, like sports or theatre. For example, in the second semester of my first year, I started working as an intern for the Student Voice Team of the Queen Mary Students’ Union. Through this role, I’ve been able to plan fun events, publish creative articles and meet new students.  I truly enjoy my work because it allows me to pursue my passions in journalism and photography. Not to mention, the Students’ Union is a fantastic environment to make a difference in our school community and offers you the chance to meet people outside of your course! There are plenty of societies and opportunities QM has to offer – go outside of your comfort zone and explore them as much as you can in your first year! Queens Building through the trees
  8. Stay connected with your law buddy! At the beginning of the semester, you are assigned an upper-year law student buddy from the Buddy Scheme. Even if you aren’t able to stay in touch with your buddy often, try to make connections with other upper-year students. You can learn a lot from them and get tips and advice for things like assessments, tutorials and extra-curricular opportunities. Even in second year, I continue to stay in touch with my buddy and ask them for tips and advice. It’s nice having someone to give you advice as you continue your degree – you'll be in their shoes sooner than you think! 
  9. Make use of the study spaces on campus. I love studying in my room. It feels like the most controlled and peaceful environment for me to work in. However, while my room can be a great place to study, I found that spending long hours in one place was tiring. It helps to change environments once in a while to stay sharp. There are plenty of study spaces on Mile End campus. One of my favourite study spots is the Graduate Centre. The Grad Café has nice, shared booths. If you go up a few levels, there is designated study seating available in the lobbies, with a beautiful view of London. One hidden gem on campus is St. Benet’s Chapel. The chapel is located at the main entrance, by the Queens’ Building. It offers a beautiful and quiet space on campus for students to study, relax and even enjoy some refreshments. Indoors at the St. Benet's Chapel with bookshelves and sitting area
  10. Start your assignments early! Don’t wait until the last minute to start working on your assignments. Deadlines are super generous (especially during the first year) so make use of them! It can be very tempting to put tasks off until nearer to the deadline but try not to cram at the last minute. Law requires a lot of deep and thoughtful reflection. Often when you approach a problem it takes numerous reads and careful reflection to fully digest it. Sometimes you’ll think you know the right answers but after reading the question a few more times, have come up with an entirely new solution! This is totally normal and if you give yourself enough time to carefully think through a problem question, you’ll be able to provide a thorough and methodical answer. 

Your first year is the best time to learn and grow, explore new opportunities and get a real feel for the degree and life as a university student. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of a big city university, and the workload that comes with studying law, so be sure always take a moment to enjoy the many things our campus and London have to offer. Have faith in yourself, work hard, make the most of opportunities and you’ll succeed. Good luck!  

By Vandy Widyalankara, Second-Year English and European Law LLB 



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