As an undergraduate currently undergoing the rigours of the Oxbridge education system I am well placed to adjudge the qualities and commitment required to not only gain acceptance onto such a degree course, but also the levels and tenacity and application required to succeed in your studies. Law is a complex and difficult subject, combining a large amount of content with some staggering intricate and almost incomprehensible interplay between differing elements.
Firstly and fore mostly an individual must be well read and articulate. This involves wielding a strong vocabulary of technical terms which can be applied both in analysis and comprehension. The entrance criterion of oxford will test for such comprehension using the LNAT (Law National Admissions Test). This will involve 30 multiple choice questions which ask you to read set pieces of text and analyse them. The test will not require and specialist legal terminology but will require you to be able to deduce for example what an implied argument is, or what information could be inferred from a certain statement.
This leads on to the second quality that a candidate must possess in spades; that is the ability to disseminate arguments in a coherent and structured manner. Practice writing balanced accounts and remember there are always two sides to every story. The secret to a strong essay is not pushing one side of the argument so strongly so as to eclipse the other, but to present all the relevant information clearly and concisely with a cutting evaluation at the finish. This is also tested upon, as the second part of the LNAT examination is a 45 minute essay question on a title of your selection. The skills displayed in the LNAT exam will come in very handy once you receive that offer and begin your undergraduate studies.
Following that, the ability to evaluate the merits of an argument and seek a solution to a problem is a strong factor in legal success. The interview process will depend on this as the tutors will set you socio-legal problems for which you will be asked to find a solution. An example question which I received in my interview was what are the arguments for and against punitive legislation on alcohol abuse and what should such legislation aim to achieve? This required me to balance the possible benefits of such legislation against negatives such as the infringement on personal liberties etc. The ability to think on your feet and avoid curveball questions is also a factor that tutors will take into account.
So if you actually manage to get onto the course well done! You are one amongst the lucky 15% or so of total applicants who received an offer. This is only the start of the struggle I’m afraid however, as once you begin your course the pressure is relentless. Time management skills are a must, each week you will have one or two deadlines which must be met. If you walk unprepared into a tutorial you are in store for a rude awakening as with group sizes averaging around 2 students it becomes quickly apparent if 50% of the class has been lazy that week. Essay deadlines are always 24 hours before the tutorial, giving you around 6 days a week to read the weekly reading list and write your essay. You do not want to fall behind on your work as it becomes very difficult in the overwhelming pace and intensity of an Oxford course to catch up again.
The ability to read long dry texts for extended periods of time is a must on this degree. Law lectures are pretty optional (at least in your first year), as most of the information can be attained through textbook and case reading. This means you will spend a lot of your time in your room simply reading page after page of legal information. A full reading list will take between 2-4 days of solid work (8 hours a day) depending on the length of the list and the complexity of the material.
Don’t worry if this is coming across as intimidating, although Oxford is a massive jump up from either A-levels, or the high school equivalent elsewhere, there is a lot of support available for those who need it. Studying at Oxford is however significantly more independent than anything you will have ever experienced before and strong personal motivation is definitely required to push you through those hard nights of writing an essay 5 hours before the deadline at 3 in the morning. The earlier three courses, which you will be assessed upon in Hilary Term (that is the second term of your first year) are Criminal Law, Constitutional law, and an Introduction to Roman Law. These subjects are less complex than some of the later modules such as Tax law or Trusts and Equity and are a good way to get you use to the legal way of thinking.