Outlines and Graphic Organizers: Making Sense of a Course

Vol. 42 No. 5

By

Amy L. Jarmon, assistant dean for academic success programs at Texas Tech University School of Law, is a professor and coeditor of the Law School Academic Support Blog. She is the author of Time and Workplace Management for Lawyers, which is published by the American Bar Association.

Many law students never outlined courses when they were undergraduates because tests were frequent and noncumulative so cramming from class notes worked well. Infrequent law school-style exams make cramming from class notes and briefs unwise.

First, one exam covering 15 weeks of material translates to hundreds of pages of briefs and notes. Second, briefs and class notes often discuss just cases and keep students focused on daily class preparation rather than synthesizing course material. Third, law school exams require application of the law to new scenarios rather than the rote memorization and “brain dump” strategies for undergraduate exams.

Outlines flip the student’s thinking to application and the “tools” needed to solve new legal problems. These tools include rules, variations on rules, exceptions to rules, definitions of elements, policy arguments, steps of analysis, and more. Outlines should be structured for understanding topics and subtopics and not include full case briefs. Cases become illustrations to jog one’s memory of tools and help spot issues.

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