One of the most important tools for studying for exams in law school is the outline. Our law school expert, Heather Buck from JD Advising, provided strategies for outlining and a step-by-step process for creating your outline in a recent Virtual Office Hours session with the Law Student Division.
Here are five helpful tips for outlining to get you started. And, if you’re looking for a template, you can download this Contracts outline in PDF format.
1. Start your outline early in the semester!
You should not wait until the end of the semester to create all your outlines, but rather you should start outlining within the first few weeks of class. That way, your outlines will already be finished by the time classes end and you will have time to review, memorize, and practice using your outline before taking the exam!
2. Your class notes are your most important resource.
Your class notes are the best source of material for your outline because your professor is writing the exam, so the way the professor presented the material is the way you want to learn it. While there is certainly other information that will be helpful and should be included from other sources, such as the casebook and any commercial supplements you use, your class notes should be your primary source of material for your outline!
3. Make your own outline.
Even if you find a great outline from someone who took the same class with the same professor, it is still important to make your own outline because the process of outlining is how you are going to learn the material! You can certainly use that outline as a guide (and it will be extremely helpful in preparing for class), but you should still make your own outline to prepare for the final exam.
4. Do not type up your class notes and call it an “outline”!
There is often a lot of extraneous class discussion that ends up in your class notes and doesn’t need to be in your outline. Also, make sure you understand what you are putting in your outline. If you are mindlessly typing your class notes into an outline without understanding them, you aren’t learning the material and the outline isn’t going to do you much good! Your outline should be a compilation of class notes, notes from the casebook, and any supplements you are using to understand the material.
5. The length of your outline doesn’t matter.
For first-year classes, outlines tend to be anywhere from 40 to 80 pages long. Don’t worry so much about the length of your outline as much as starting on it early, continuing to work on it on a regular basis, and knowing the material in the outline!
Need more tips?
For more advice on outlining, see this additional advice from JD Advising, including:
- A Guide to Outlining
- Review Your Outline
- What To Do with Notes, Case Briefs, Etc.
- And Preparation Tips for Open-Book Exams