Monday, December 18, 2006

Suggestions on getting into NUS Law

It appears that the recent hits on my blog has mostly or almost entirely to do with searches on NUS Law, by deductive reasoning, it would appear that this is the result of “kiasu” or at least well prepared Singaporean students attempting to get a heads up on what to expect at a) the law entrance exam and b) the law interview.

I’m going to presume that you meet the minimum criteria for entering law school, otherwise you really don’t have much of a hope even being shortlisted. The reason I know this is because my GP grade was screwed up such that despite otherwise excellent A levels grade (and being a humanities student to boot, I mean seriously, does not an A in literature prove that I can read, write, comprehend and analyze in English at the very minimum?), I was not shortlisted for the entrance examinations.

Ironically, I was saved by National Service, which allowed me to reapply the next year on the basis of my SAT scores (I also submitted my retaken GP scores, which I had retaken for vindication).

Gripping aside, here’s what you generally ought to know.

1. The odds are against you.

Assuming you get past the short-listing stage, you’ll be amongst the 1000 plus students vying for a position for the 200 odd that will eventually be selected. The odds are not as bad as trying to get into Oxford or Cambridge, much less the International Relations course at LSE but it’s still fairly tough I would think because of the general caliber of the persons you will be up against. As the saying goes, everyone there at one point of their lives was first in class or the like.

2. Be able to handle surprises and make do

Now with regards to the written exams, it could take a number of forms. The year before mine was something akin to a comprehension test. I was hoping for that, I was expecting that. Instead I got a one paragraph essay requiring me to explain whether I supported a marital rape exemption, and why or why not. You could hear the collective intake of breadth when we were told to turn over the paper. It came after the stunned silence to be fair.

3. Read widely, read critically and then read some more

But because of the wide possibilities of what could turn up, my recommendation is simply to read and keep abreast of current affairs and general contentious issues. Remember even if you don’t have a particular opinion on any single issue, what you can do is to develop one if you understand the basic issues and principles to be applied.

4. Analyze, organize and kick ass

What the examiners are looking for I am told is the capability of seeing all the issues, and the capability of expressing them, taking a stance and defending it. What this will consist of is an acknowledgement of the strongest arguments on the other side and then demonstrating why it is wrong.

5. Think smarter not harder.

As an illustration, allow me to use the marital rape exemption essay that I had to write. Simply put, I had never considered that something of this sort actually existed and it struck me as wrong given what I knew about rape laws in general (very limited at that time admittedly but what I learnt from Ally McBeal and The Practice was sufficient for this context). Therefore, what I tried to do was to explore why I though the proposition was wrong and attempt to come up with arguments for the other side. The biggest problem I had was that I though it was such a clear erroneous position that I had difficulty coming up with arguments in support of it.

I don’t think I’m able to reproduce the essay from memory but here’s what I remember. Firstly, a general introduction about how the non consummation of marriage is grounds for a divorce even under the Roman Catholic Church. Next was, honestly, a rather confused analysis of whether it mattered because of other laws on the books that would permit prosecution anyway. Fortunately, I knew just about enough to throw out the argument that sentencing under these alternative charges would not be as harsh as rape. Then came a general analysis of possible negative consequences of overturning the marital rape exemption which I dismiss on grounds of due process and evidentiary burden protecting false accusations. Followed by a rhetorical argument about the absolute lack of rationality or logic in being protected better when one is in fact not married.

There was a quick and dirty mention of s. 377 and the ludicrous law that enables one to be prosecuted for being naked in one’s house (there are some good reasons for it but this is not the time and place to go into them). I raised the argument in a terribly roundabout fashion as the point I wanted to make was that the marital rape exemption was a way of keeping out the government from the bedroom. But I then shredded the position which made me wonder if I just wasted a load of time that could have better spent elsewhere.

5. The interview is important

According to law lore (and take what you will about the authenticity of that), the written paper is not as important as the interview. Some say that the interview is all and the written test at best is a tie-breaker. I really have no idea.

But the interview is at the very minimum one of the two components of the entire process and it’s very revealing about you. So I think it is very important, just how important on the other hand I have no idea.

6. Dress like a law student

This is a personal thing. I strongly advocate NOT dressing like a lawyer. You’re a law student wannabe not a lawyer yet. So no suit, no black and white. Ties are a questionable. I don’t think you need them at this stage but bring one along anyway and look at how people are dressed on that day.

And please please please dress up. This is an interview for a professional degree. Casual is a no no. Jeans are nearly automatically out (black jeans with a proper shirt might be fine). Casual formal is skirting the edge in my opinion.

7. Think before you speak.

It isn’t a debate, quick responses are not needed and may actually be detrimental. You want to seem thoughtful, and you want to make sure you’ve got your answer properly organized and thinking does that, buys you time and more.

8. Strike early and strike hard

Make your answers count. If they cut you off after the first line (very unlikely) or even after the third, make sure you’ve said what you needed to have said. Don’t ramble. I speak from personal experience here. Don’t feel that you necessarily have to fill up the time or silences.

9. Demonstrate your ability to see the issue and not just argue your side

Do a quick search on this blog, I have a short account of my interview by the by in a post or three before this. It involved strings being attached to state scholarships and I was made to express an argument for the other side. My interviewer said that he was worried I was unable to take on any position or issue.

10. Prepare.

There will be some standard questions e.g. why did you choose law, why should we select you, I see you’ve also applied for medicine/dentistry/scholarship/have a position in a foreign university. Be honest, interviewers can sense when you’re lying. Which is not to say you should not have a spin on why they should select you nonetheless.

Well good luck to all you future law students. Make you sure really want to do this. Peace.

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At 12:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Shaun, by minimum criteria do you mean the competitive minimum (AAA/A) or the minimum stated on NUS ("Good overall A level results, including at least a B grade in H1 General Paper (GP); or a good pass in H2 Knowledge & Inquiry (KI); or a minimum SAT Critical Reading score of 700 accompanied by a minimum E grade for GP/KI.")?

- Jeremy

At 12:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What was your SAT score? If you do not want to divulge it, would you mind giving the range that you scored?


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