Before discussing when to start outlining in law school, let’s answer a more important question:
What is outlining?
Outlining is the process of condensing all of your class notes, cases, and everything you learn throughout the semester into something that is manageable and easy to learn. In law school, you will be expected to make an outline for each of your substantive law classes (such as Contracts, Criminal Law, Torts, Civil Procedure). The only course you will not be expected to make an outline for is any Legal Research or Writing class you may have. (For an in-depth guide to outlining, see this post.)
Keep in mind that you will not be graded on your outlines. You will never have to hand them in. However, they are the most effective way to learn the law for your final exams. Further, many professors allow you to consult your outline during your final exams (Remember, that law school is different from undergrad, and many times you will only have one exam for each class that will determine your entire final grade!)
Wondering when to start outlining in law school?
There is a debate among law students over when to start outlining in law school. Some start the first week. Many start mid-semester (Thanksgiving break) and many more start outlining right before final exams. My advice to you is to not pay attention to this debate over when to start outlining in law school and instead, start as soon as possible.
Do not make the mistake of waiting until the week or two before final exams to start outlining. Many students that do this find that they do not have enough time to create their own outlines. These students end up borrowing a classmate’s outline or using their class notes as their outline. Borrowing another student’s outline is not a good idea because you learn your outlines the best by creating them. If you borrow an outline, you are depriving yourself of this very useful experience. Further, using your class notes as your outline is not effective because class notes tend to be too long and unorganized. It is much easier to learn a neatly-condensed outline than to learn a stack of long and jumbled class notes.
Start outlining as soon as possible. Begin to outline the material for each of your classes right away and add to your outlines as the semester goes on. I always started outlining at the very beginning of the semester.
Starting your outline early is advantageous for many reasons. First, you will begin to develop this crucial skill of outlining early on. Second, you will have an easier time remembering the information that you put into your outline because you will be learning and organizing it in small doses. Last, you can use your study period right before exams to learn the law and take practice exams. If you begin outlining early you will be ahead of the game.
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