skip to content

Transkills: supporting transition to University


Each problem question tells a story about what one or more “characters” do. The student is then asked whether any crimes have been committed in the story. Problem questions are a common way for law students to be tested on their detailed knowledge of the law. They require students to do three things: 

  • Read and understand the story to identify the legal issues;
  • Relate the facts of the problem question to the student’s legal knowledge and decide on a legal outcome
  • Write a clear, concise and comprehensive answer, setting out the law (with authorities) and explaining how the law applies to the facts to determine what crimes, if any, have been committed

In the examinations at the end of the year, and perhaps for some of written work done during the year, each problem answer must be tackled in 45 minutes. 

Problem questions may take one of several formats. The examples set out below were all taken from the Law Tripos 2010 exam paper. Each type requires a slightly different approach, which will be discussed in the How do I structure my answer section.

Type A

A question in parts, which may be related or unconnected. For example:

John is a 40 year old sadist with a buttock fetish and Edward is a masochist. Consider what offences, if any, have been committed in each of the following alternative circumstances:

  1. Edward, who is 15, asks John to beat him on his bottom with a cane. John, who is very drunk, does so. Edward is so badly bruised by the caning that he is unable to sit down for a week.
  2. Edward, who is 16, asks John to spank him. John, thinking Edward is 14, does as Edward requests without causing him any injury.
  3. Edward, who is 12, places a message on a sado-masochist website asking for a sadist to contact him. John emails him. Edward replies, saying he is 18 and wants John to spank him. John agrees to do so but subsequently has second thoughts.

Type B

A question with one or two major events. For example:

Rachel suffers from severe depression and agoraphobia, which means that she is afraid of leaving the house, and has become morbidly obese. One evening, when her husband Frank is at the pub with his best friend Jamie, Rachel logs on to Frank’s computer and discovers he has been viewing hard-core pornography. She is disgusted and feels betrayed by his behaviour. She drowns her sorrows by drinking half a bottle of vodka.

A few hours later Frank and Jamie return from the pub, having drunk a substantial amount of lager. Rachel accuses Frank of undermining their marriage by resorting to pornography. He tells her that it is the only pleasure he can get because ‘who would want to sleep with a fat cow like you?’ and he adds, ‘you won’t even come to the public with me.’ Rachel becomes very distressed. She rushes into the kitchen where she sees a carving knife. She sharpens it and rushes back and stabs Frank in the chest. He dies instantly.

Rachel collapses and is very distressed. Jamie tries to comfort her by giving her a hug. She does not push him away. He then takes advantage of the situation by trying to have sex with her but is unable to gain an erection because of the amount of alcohol he has drunk.

Consider what offences, if any, have been committed.

Type C

A question with lots of events happening over a period of time. For example:

Danyl gave evidence in a trial which resulted in the conviction of a drug dealer. The dealer’s two adult children, Joe and Ollie, decide that they will get revenge for their father’s conviction by going to Danyl’s house and, if he does not give them his car and apologise for what he did, they will shoot him in both of his knees. They borrow a gun from their mother, Cheryl, having told her that they plan to use it to steal some money from a bank.

Joe and Ollie turn up at Danyl’s house late at night. Joe breaks a window and they both climb through it to the kitchen. Danyl and his wife Stacey are woken by the noise and go downstairs to see what is happening. Danyl sees that Joe is holding the gun and knocks it from his hand. Danyl punches Joe in the face, knocking him to the ground, and then starts kicking him in the head, breaking his nose. Joe shouts to Ollie for help. Ollie picks up a carving knife and pushes it towards Joe. Joe begs Danyl to stop kicking him. Danyl refuses to do so and Joe sticks the knife into Danyl’s thigh.

Danyl continues to kick Joe. Ollie picks up the gun from the floor and carefully aims it at Danyl’s chest to stop him. Just before Ollie shoots, Stacey rushes forward to help Danyl and the bullet hits her in the neck, killing her instantly. Ollie pulls Stacey’s gold necklace from her neck, puts it in his pocket, and drags Joe out of the house. 

Consider what offences, if any, have been committed.