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Step-by-Step Guide to Outlining

When you first start law school, you'll hear the word "outline" constantly without really understanding what it is. An outline is basically a sum of all your notes for a specific class to help you study for the final.

While there are many outlines available online, for purchase, or from upperclassmen, I highly recommend making your own first. Making the outline helps you organize the information in your brain, as well as identify gaps in your notes. Once you've made your own to the best of your ability, then use others to fill in those gaps and clarify confusing information.

The earlier you start making your outline in the semester, the better you will understand the organization of the course and be able to identify where material fits into the big picture. I didn't understand how to outline until like the few weeks before my midterm when I didn't have a choice, so don't freak out if the concept seems foreign to you! Here are some tips to help you get started.

1. Make a skeletal outline

You can do this the first week or two of class. Take your syllabus or the book and start your outline with a "Table of Contents" style list of the topics you will be covering. This sets you up to fill it in as you go.

2. Fill it in at the end of each chapter or topic

Doing this as you go saves you from having to do it all right before the exam. Make a note in your planner or put a sticky note somewhere to remind yourself to do this!

3. Start with your class and reading notes

Important things to include are definitions, rules, cases, and hypos. For each case you cover, include basic facts, the holding, and the reasoning. If you know this, you'll be able to compare or distinguish on an exam.

4. Fill in from the power points

I find I miss what's on the power points frequently because we move too fast in class for me to write everything on them down. Often, they have important definitions or hypos. For the classes that post them, make sure to review them and add necessary information to your outline.

5. Identify gaps and fill them in

Either look at other outlines and see if you can fill them in that way, or go to your teacher's office hours and ask. Since your teacher writes the exam, his or her information will be the most accurate (or they might tell you that you don't need to know that at all, which is great!!)

6. Memorize!

Your outline is only going to help you on the exam if you know the information on it. Find ways to test yourself, make flashcards, handwrite things to help cement them in your brain, whatever works for you.

Your outline will be fairly long, depending on your format and how much information you include. They will probably be six pages minimum, but can get up to the thirties. A good outline is essential to getting a good exam grade. Time to get started!!!

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