Final exams are just around the corner. An outline is your best tool for learning all of the law that you need to know in time for your final exams. An outline will help you condense the material that you have learned over the semester into something that is manageable and easy to learn. A stellar outline can make the difference between an A and a B, or a B and a C. Here are some tips for creating law school outlines:
Tips for Creating Law School Outlines:
1. Organize your outline around the topics that appear in your class syllabus. All of the major headings in your class syllabus should appear in your outline. Do not make the mistake that many first year law students make by organizing your outline around cases. You can include cases in your outline as illustrations of legal principals, but do not organize your outline around them.
2. Do not use your class notes as an outline! Writing “Outline” on the top line of your class notes does not magically transform them into an outline. Your class notes will be way too long and unorganized to serve the purpose that an outline serves. That is not to say that you cannot use your class notes as the backbone of your outline – you simply have to modify them significantly by going through the unglamorous process of condensing them and organizing them into something manageable. This brings me to my third point…
3. Rely heavily on your class notes when creating your outline. It is useful to consult a commercial outline or supplement when you are writing your outline because you can ensure that you truly understand the law. However, your class notes are more important than any commercial outline or supplement because your class notes reveal what your professor thinks is important and what your professor wants you to know for the final exam.
4. Make your outlines easy to read. Instead of writing rules in full sentences, break them down into elements and space them out in your outline. It is much easier for your brain to learn rules in small bits and pieces rather than trying to memorize a full sentence. It also helps to use diagrams and pictures to illustrate concepts.
5. Once you’ve created your outline…congratulations! But your only halfway there. Simply creating an outline isn’t enough. Once you have created an outline, you must actively review it. It helps to figure out your learning style to determine how you can best learn your outlines. Some ways to start the process of actively reviewing your outlines: Underline them and write notes to yourself in the margins. Draw pictures and diagrams. Explain them out loud. Quiz yourself or have your unwilling significant other quiz you. To “actively” review an outline means that some part of you is “active” – whether it is your hand, your mouth, or your body. If you are sitting completely still (and, for example, trying to simply passively read your outlines) then the likelihood is that you are not really thinking about the law and that you are instead thinking about what you will eat for lunch or what you will post as your next Facebook status. Neither of which will be tested on your law school final exam.
If you are looking for more ideas to learn your outline, then please read this post.
Once you are done creating and learning your outline, it is time to take practice exams. (If you are looking for an in-depth guide to answering law school exam fact patterns, click this link!)