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First things first: It sounds like you might be mixing up your terminology here. "Effects" has a very specific meaning in AE -- it refers to those plugins that get applied to layers and are grouped under the "Effects" property group. It sounds like you are asking how to apply the same transforms (position, scale, etc.) to a whole group of layers.
There are several ways to do what you are describing. You can copy and paste keyframes; you can select the animated properties and create an Animation Preset, which you can then apply to other layers; or you can link layer properties using expressions. The first two are two ways of going about the same thing. Expressions are different in that they are "live", meaning any changes to the master layer will be reflected automatically in the linked layers.
If I misunderstood your post, and you do want to copy actual effects from one layer to another, copy/paste or animation presets will get you there the fastest, since expressions alone can't apply the actual effects. Just be aware that with copy/paste, the position of the current time indicator has an effect on where the keyframes are pasted in time.
Note: I can't remember if AE 5.5 has Animation Presets - they may have been introduced in AE 6.0.
Another option is to do the following:
Set up one layer the way you want it.
Duplicate the layer (Ctrl/Cmd D)
Alt-drag a new image from the project window onto the selected duplicate layer.
Repeat for each layer.
I believe Animation Presets were introduced in ae6.0. I think they were called something else in 5.5, but don't remember what.. When were expressions introduced? Was that also in 6?
As far as I remember, you could only save the animation of a single property pre-AE6. Expressions definitely were in 5.5, but may have been there before. Well, all too long ago for anyone to remember. ;-)
Thanks for the quick responses - I'm a happy chap now.