GUEST BLOG Katie R. Day,
Quinnipiac University School of Law, J.D. Candidate 2018
Aside from tailoring your outline to the structure of the class, also tailor it to the structure of the exam.
Today is my last day of classes!
While I no longer have to sit in class, I can’t totally put the semester behind me yet. The next week is going to be full of outlining for all of my law school final exams, some open book and some closed.
Outlining can be a challenge and a lot of law students are tempted to make a “template” outline that they can fill in with class-specific material. While that sounds like a timesaver, it’s actually really detrimental. Every class is different, every exam focuses on different things, and therefore each outline should reflect those differences.
Think about how the professor organized the class.
You should have the most information in your outline about the topics that were discussed the most. Don’t get caught up trying to thoroughly analyze something your professor just mentioned in passing. If you’re unsure if you understand something enough, meet with a classmate or your professor and talk it through. You can also ask if your professor will review your outline. I’ve had several who are happy to take a look and make note of things that are missing or over-emphasized.
Aside from tailoring your outline to the structure of the class, also tailor it to the structure of the exam. Open-book exams require very different outlines from closed-book exams. For a closed-book exam an 80-page outline isn’t going to do you much good since it’s unlikely you can memorize that much info. Try to condense the rules, cases, and concepts as much as possible so they are easy to memorize. Depending on your learning style you may want to make flashcards or create mnemonic devices.
Since you’ll have your outline with you in an open book exam, it can be a little longer and more substantive. The key to using your outline effectively during the exam is organization. The answer may be in your outline, but that’s not helpful if you had to spend 20 minutes flipping through to find it. Organize your outline in a way that makes sense for you and then think of some other ways you can make it easy to search through. For a longer outline, you may want a skeleton outline or table of contents you can quickly skim. I’m a big fan of adding tabs that note the different rules and highlighting key cases or concepts.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you’re thoughtful about how you’re making your outlines and what will work best for you. It may seem like a lot of work–and it is–but the benefits of having a strong outline are well worth the trouble!