Should I rely on an upper-division student's outline or a commercial outline to prepare for exams? NO. Remember that you are not creating an outline to turn in as an assignment or to win any awards. The outline is another tool from which you can study the law. The process of you outlining a course dramatically increases your ability to retain the information and to develop a sense of what information you will need to apply to a set of facts on an exam. In addition, commercial outlines are not always in tune with the material as presented by your professor. Canned outlines may be helpful to fill in any gaps after you have done the work, but they SHOULD NOT take the place of your own outlines.
It Takes Time To Acquire New Skills in Law School: Even if you learn perfectly every bit of information presented to you in your texts and classes, you still may fail to do well in law school. Although knowledge is crucial to success, the goal of legal education is to teach you skills. In other words, what you need to learn is how to apply the knowledge you acquire and how to effectively do so in writing. This point is often overlooked by new law students. Your law school exams will require you to demonstrate your skills in applying your knowledge of the law to new situations. Acquiring new skills requires you to practice those skills over and over and requires a large expenditure of time by you (and does not necessarily come easily or quickly). Keep your focus this semester and allow the time necessary to develop these important skills.
Adapted from Expert Learning for Law Students by Michael Hunter Schwartz.
Don't Do Your Reading Too Far in Advance: The more you remember from your reading assignment, the more you will get out of class. If you do your reading too long before a class meets, you will remember so little of the material that you will lose the benefits of working ahead. As a general rule, try to complete your reading one to two days before class. This, together with a five-minute pre-class review, will maximize your classroom learning.
Tips to Becoming More Efficient and Effective: Time is a precious commodity in law school. Law students are always looking for shortcuts; however, shortcuts are not the answer. Instead, you want to use time more efficiently and effectively. Here are some suggestions:
1. Learn the material as you read it rather than highlight it to learn later. Ask questions while you read. Make margin notes as you read. Brief the case or make additional notes to emphasize the main points and big picture of the topic after you finish reading. If you only do cursory "survival" reading, you will have to re-read for learning later which means double work.
2. Review what you have read before class. By reviewing, you reinforce your learning. You will be able to follow in class better. You will recognize what is important for note taking rather than taking down everything the professor says. You will be able to respond to questions more easily. Your confidence level about the material will increase.
3. Be more efficient and effective in taking class notes. Listen carefully in class. Take down the main points rather than frantically writing or typing verbatim notes. Use consistent symbols and abbreviations in your notes.
4. Review your class notes within 24 hours. Fill in gaps. Organize the notes if needed. Note any questions that you have. If you wait to review your notes until you are outlining, you will have less recall of the material.
5. Regularly review material. We forget 80% of what we learn in 2 weeks if we do not review. Regular review of your outlines will mean less cramming at the end of the semester. You save time ultimately by not re-learning. You gain deeper understanding. You have less stress at exam time.
6. Look for the big picture at the end of each sub-topic and topic. Do not wait until pre-exam studying to pull the course together. Synthesize the cases that you have read on a sub-topic: how are they different and similar. Determine the main points that you need to cull from cases for the sub-topic or topic. Analyze how the sub-topics or topics are inter-related. If visuals help you learn, incorporate a flowchart or table or other graphic into your outline to show the steps of analysis and/or inter-relationships.
7. Ask the professors questions as soon as you can. Do not store up questions like a squirrel storing nuts for winter. The sooner you get your questions answered, the greater your comprehension of current material. New topics often build on understanding of prior topics. Unanswered questions merely lead to more confusion and less learning.
Get to Know Your Professors: The faculty members at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law are top notch legal scholars and teachers, and they also provide valuable insight into how you can be successful. Be sure to meet with each of your professors at least once during the semester. Utilize their office hours to clarify points of the law or to follow up on a class discussion.
Create Your Own Case Briefs for Every Case You Read
Case briefing is a formalized way of taking notes on your reading in preparation for class. Creating your own case briefs is important for several reasons: (1) you will be better prepared for class discussion; (2) you will develop the analytical skills that are critical to success on exams; (3) you will crystallize your understanding of the case; (4) you will be able to review a group of related cases easily and efficiently without having to rely on your memory or having to re-read cases; and (5) you can use your briefs and class notes to create your course outlines. Don't make the mistake that many law students make during the fall semester - they brief only sporadically or stop briefing completely because they believe it is too time-consuming. The task of case briefing is worth the added time and effort, and it will actually save you time when it counts - when preparing for exams!
Start Your Day Early and On Time
The work day typically begins between 8:00 and 9:00 AM and so should your study day. A good rule of thumb is to spend three hours studying (outside of class) for every hour of class time. This translates into between 45 and 50 hours per week studying pre-class and post-class (30 to 38 hours if you are in the part-time program). Considering the number of hours you will spend studying, it may not be possible to get everything done in the evening, even if you are a "night owl." Night time studying may have worked in college, in part, because you rarely spent 40 to 50 hours preparing for classes. So, try to start your study day early and work during the daylight hours.