Whether you’re a 1L, 2L, or 3L, creating an effective course outline is something you should be focusing on throughout the semester. A good course outline will make studying for finals easier, improve your ability to memorize rules of law, and help you draft a well-organized essay answer. Outlining is a process that you should start early (as in, NOW!) and perform on a regular basis. You should review and update your outlines on a daily or weekly basis, depending on your schedule and learning preferences. To help you create an outline that will promote final exam success, keep these tips and strategies in mind:
- See the Big Picture. It can be easy to get bogged down in the minutia of the cases that you’re reading each day, but seeing the big picture is a really important part of preparing for finals. When you’re updating your outline, make sure you pull back from the details and recognize the major topics and how the concepts relate. Your outline should display the topics, subtopics, and rules in the correct hierarchy and make the relationships between concepts clear.
- Include Precise Rule Statements. The majority of your outline should consist of rules of law. The legal rules that you are gleaning and synthesizing from the cases provide the foundation for performing strong analysis on hypos and exam questions. Accordingly, it’s crucial that your outline contains complete and accurate statements of the rules of law. When updating your outline each week, be sure to clearly articulate the legal rules and seek clarification if you’re struggling to form strong rule statements.
- Review and Edit. You’re outline should be a living document that changes as the semester progresses. Periodically review your outline and condense, expand, or re-write sections as needed. Reviewing your outline throughout the semester will ensure that you have a finished outline by the end of the semester and it will help you recall concepts that you studied earlier in the semester.
- Remove Mini-Case Briefs. A common mistake that students make when outlining is to include too much detail about the cases at the expense of focusing on the rules of law. You’re outline should be structured around the rules and use the cases merely as examples. It’s rarely, if ever, necessary to include issue statements, detailed factual accounts, or procedural postures about cases like you do when you’re completing a case brief. Instead, concentrate on synthesizing the correct legal rule from each case, organizing that rule in the correct hierarchy, and using a brief (very brief!) description of the case as an example of how the rule is applied. It’s also a good idea to ask your professor how much detail about the cases he or she likes to see on the exam – some professors may encourage you to know case names, while others won’t care at all.
Whether you’re creating a traditional roman numeral style outline or do something more unique, the process of consistently reviewing the concepts and organizing them into a useable study aid is key to exam success. Be sure to include outlining in your weekly study schedule and ask for help if you’re struggling to create a cohesive outline. Also, for all of our 1Ls out there, our second Foundational Skills Workshop is schedule for this week and we’ll be covering some more strategies and suggestions for creating a helpful course outline.