Most students start to get a little nervous at this time in the semester because they look at their calendar and realize that classes are almost overs. That means that there’s only a few short weeks left to outline your class notes and prepare your study aids before finals. If you haven’ been as diligent about outlining throughout the semester as you had originally planned, you might be tempted at this late date to simply abandon the process and buy a commercial outline or borrow an outline from another student. While we understand the temptation, we also know that you’ll be doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t make your own course outline. So, let us make one more plug for creating your own outline by highlighting some of the downsides of relying solely on a commercial or borrowed outline:

  • Not tailored to your professor. On a final exam, your professor will expect you to know and apply the law from their class, not the law from a commercial outline created for a national audience. Every professor emphasizes different aspects of a course and has their own way of explaining the law, and it’s crucial that your exam answer reflects those individual preferences. Borrowing an outline from a student who took the course during a prior year won’t help you here either, as the law may change slightly from year to year and because professors may focus on different topics in the new semester.
  • Not paraphrased in your words. When you create your own outline, you’re forced to re-write the concepts and explanations in your own words, which helps ensure that you understand the material, whereas when you use a borrowed outline, you’re more likely to merely memorize the words without really comprehending what those words mean. Additionally, it can be more difficult to memorize concepts that someone else has written as opposed to those that are paraphrased in your own words.
  • Not sure of the quality. Sure, there are some very good commercial outlines out there, but there are also some not so good commercial outlines. Likewise, you can never be sure of the quality of a borrowed outline, even if the creator assures you they made a top grade. The only way you can be sure that an outline is going to be a high quality study aid that will help you on the exam, is to put in the effort to make one yourself.
  • Not allowing for spaced review. Spaced review involves reviewing material at regularly spaced intervals and is proven to promote retention and understanding. The outlining process forces you to engage in spaced review by requiring you to reread your class notes and review the concepts you covered in previous weeks.
  • Not organized, processed, or synthesized by you. The most important part of outlining isn’t necessarily the finished product, but the process you went through to create that product. Outlining requires you to grapple with the material and think through the concepts until you can organize them into a coherent structure. If you rely on a commercial or borrowed outline, you’ll miss out on this essential process.

Commercial outlines and supplements aren’t all bad – they can be helpful references if you need additional explanation or guidance – but they should not be your primary study tool. Outlining is hard work that requires concentration and contemplation, but the advantages of creating your own outline can’t be overstated. Even though there’s only a few weeks left in the semester, you still have time to create your own outlines if you put your head down and get to work. Get the outlining process going and we promise you’ll be glad you did when it’s time to take final exams!