Mastering VCE Legal Studies Exam Questions: Analysing, Planning, and Writing Effective Responses

To introduce myself, I'm Jing a VCE English, Legal Studies and Economics tutor on Learnmate. I graduated with an ATAR of 99.4, including a 48 in English, before studying a Bachelor of Commerce and Laws at Monash University.  I am currently undertaking a Masters of Teaching and have a strong desire to ensure my students achieve academic excellence and find a lifelong love of learning!

In this blog,  my aim is to provide a detailed approach to analysing, planning, and writing a comprehensive answer to a long-answer question, using Question 8 from the 2023 VCE Legal Studies Exam as a lens. The question focuses on the role of the High Court in constitutional interpretation and its impact on the division of law-making powers between Federal and State Parliaments.

2023 VCE Legal Studies Exam Paper

Here's the question from the 2023 VCE Legal Studies Exam that we will use to break down how to approach long-answer questions:

Question 8 (10 marks)

Discuss the extent to which the High Court has had an impact on the division of law-making powers. In your response, explain the ways in which these powers are distributed between the state and Commonwealth parliaments.

Identify a Key Concept

To start, familiarise yourself with key terminology, especially the 'division of powers' as opposed to the 'separation of powers'. The 'division of powers' refers to how the power to legislate on specific issues is allocated between the Commonwealth and State Parliaments. In contrast, the 'separation of powers' is the constitutional concept of creating checks and balances to avoid the concentration of power in one institution.

Structuring the Response

The Role of the High Court

Begin your response by identifying the High Court's role in interpreting Section 51 of the Constitution. Through its interpretations, the High Court has altered the permissible law-making areas of the Commonwealth Parliament, thus affecting the legislative powers of both the Commonwealth and State Parliaments.

Division of Law-Making Powers

Explain the 'division of law-making powers,' which refers to the specific powers outlined in the Australian Constitution that the Commonwealth Parliament may legislate upon. These powers may be exclusive to the Commonwealth, shared with the States, or residual powers left to the States and embedded in their respective Constitutions at the time of Federation.

High Court Judgments

Students should provide examples of High Court judgments that have interpreted Section 51 in favour of either the Commonwealth or State Parliaments. Highlight significant caselaw that have expanded the Commonwealth Parliament's powers.

A Model Response


Since 1920, the High Court has altered the division of law-making powers between the Commonwealth and State Parliaments through its interpretation of Section 51 powers. The division of law-making powers includes 'exclusive' powers solely exercised by the Commonwealth, 'concurrent' powers shared with the States, and 'residual' powers retained by the States.

In Brislan’s case, the High Court broadened the Commonwealth’s power by deeming wireless set broadcasting to be similar to postal, telegraphic, or telephonic services under Section 51(v) of the Constitution. This upheld the validity of the Wireless Telegraphy Act (Clth), requiring all wireless set owners to hold a license.

In the Tasmanian Dam case, the High Court held that the Section 51(xxix) external affairs power extends to the Commonwealth’s power to pass laws giving effect to international treaties, even if those laws interfere with state legislative areas such as the environment.


As students should be able to see, appropriately answering long-answer questions like this requires an understanding of key concepts, examples related to those concepts, and how to then structure that understanding together into a coherent answer that addresses the question. In this example, by understanding the High Court's role in interpreting the Constitution and its impact on the division of law-making powers, and having relevant case law examples to support that understanding, students can effectively tackle VCE Legal Studies exam questions like the one from the 2023 exam.

My takeaways: Ensure you understand all the key concepts in VCE Legal Studies. And in approaching your answers to exam questions, remember to provide clear explanations, use relevant case law examples, and structure your response logically to maximise your marks.

For more tips and resources on VCE Legal Studies, check out our other guides and connect with expert tutors on Learnmate.

Need a little extra support or a confidence boost in VCE Legal Studies? Explore more expert tips and resources on Learnmate or connect with former top-performing VCE Legal Studies student tutors and qualified teachers to start working towards achieving your potential. Share this guide with your peers to ensure you all succeed today!


This blog was written by Jing L, a VCE Legal Studies, Economics and English  Tutor on Learnmate. Jing is enthusiastic about making a difference with her students and enjoys tutoring while completing her Masters of Teaching. She graduated with a 99.4 ATAR, and has received a number of academic awards during her time at school and Monash University, including academic excellence awards for History and Biology, the Award for Consistent Excellence for Microeconomics and Macroeconomics at Monash, and was placed on the Dean's Commendation List for 2011 in the Faculty of Business and Economics.

You can view her profile and, subject to her availability, request Jing as your tutor here.

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