Weekly Academic Success Tip - Have YOU Started Your Outlines Yet?

When created correctly, an outline will become your primary, and possibly only, study aid for exams.  While law students create outlines to have an aid from which to study, it is through the process of creating an outline that you actually learn the law.  Because outlining is a process that continues throughout the semester, you need to begin at some point during the first month of classes.  Why?  If you wait to work on your outlines until the end of the semester, it is unlikely that you will have enough time to complete them prior to exams. Listen to your professors and to your colleagues that performed well last semester - start your outlines now!  Here are some tips to keep in mind as you work on your outlines for each course.

  • View your outline as your master document for studying.  Your notes and briefs go “on the shelf” once you have outlined a section.  Your casebook is no longer your focus for completed sections.
  • Make sure your outline takes a “top down” approach.  The outline should encompass the overview of the course rather than “everything said or read” during the semester.  Main essentials include:  rules, definitions of elements, hypos of when the rule/element is met and not met, policy arguments that can be used, and/or reasoning that courts use. 
  • Cases are usually mere vehicles for information unless they are “big” cases.  Cases generally convey the main essentials that you need for your outline and are not the focus. 
  • Condense before you outline.  If you include “everything said or read” in your outline, you will need to condense in stages to get to the main essentials that you actually need for the exam.  If you condense before you outline a section, you will save time later.
  • Use visuals when appropriate.  If you learn visually, then avoid a thousand words by using a diagram, table, flowchart, or other visual presentation for the same information. 
  • Review your outline regularly.  You want to be learning your outline as well as writing it.  The world’s best outline will not help you if you do not have time to learn it before the exam.
  • Condense your outline to one piece of paper as a checklist.  A checklist includes only the topics and sub-topics.  Use acronyms tied to funny stories to help you remember the checklist.  Write the checklist on scrap paper once the exam begins.  For an open-book exam, the checklist should start your outline.
  • If you read and prepare for your classes one or two days in advance, your Thursdays and Fridays should be open to work on your outlines – no excuses!