Believe it or not, you’re already a month into the Spring semester. Hopefully you’ve had a chance over the last four weeks to process you’re first semester grades, settle into your new classes, and think about the goals you want to achieve this year. Now that the Spring semester is in full swing, it’s time to start your course outlines. You should have covered more than enough material in your classes to start your outlines and it’s important to stay up to date with the outlining process so that you don’t have an overwhelming amount of material to outline during the reading week. To help you create the most helpful outlines possible, keep these tips and strategies in mind:
- Focus on concepts, not cases. The legal concepts you learn should dictate the structure of the outline and make up the bulk of the information. Although there will be some situations where a case gets thorough treatment in your outline (think International Shoe in Civ Pro), for the most part the cases should be included as brief examples of how the rules are applied. So avoid merely summarizing cases and/or organizing your outline chronologically based on the cases you read, and instead make an effort to synthesize the rule or rules that the cases stand for.
- Organize topics in a logical order. A good exam answer won’t jump between topics, conflate different rules, or address concepts out of order. Instead, a good exam answer will analyze topics and apply rules in a manner that is logical, straightforward, and that makes sense. To help you write this type of exam answer, your outline should be organized in a way that is logical, straightforward, and that makes sense. So make sure the topics in your outline are organized in a way that will help you analyze a potential exam problem properly and be sure to display the proper relationship between the topics. If you’re struggling to organize your outline, try starting with the big picture and then working down to the details. Organize the main concepts, then add the sub-concepts in the appropriate section and order, then fill in with the sub-sub-concepts, and so on.
- Make the rules clear. Everything starts with knowledge of the blackletter law. You simply won’t be able to perform the issue spotting and analysis that is so important to writing a good exam answer if you don’t first know the legal rules. So it stands to reason that your outline, your primary study aid, should make the blackletter law clear. As your outlining, remember the fundamentals and always make sure that you are defining the legal terms and including rule statements for each concept you discuss.
- Outline regularly. Make it a point to update your outlines at regular intervals. Some students like to outline every day, others once a week, and others will rotate which outline they work on every few days. It doesn’t really matter how you schedule your outlining time as long as you do it consistently and don’t wait until the last minute to create your outlines. Outlining regularly will not only ensure you have a completed outline to help you prepare for finals, but it will lso test your comprehension of the subject – if you can’t outline it you may not understand as well as you need to and you’ll know you need to get clarification.
There’s a reason every professor, every academic support professional, and every law school guidebook tells you make a course outline: because they really do help you learn and remember the law. But to get the most benefit out of the outlining process you need to make a good outline. Use the tips above to help you make an outline that will serve you well when it’s time to study for finals, but don’t wait. Get started now!