HOW TO BUILD AN OUTLINE


           If you haven't done so already, refer to "Write Your Own Outlines!" for an overview of the benefits of building an an outline from scratch. I am not just advertising my own article here, I honestly wish that all students in all levels of education would build their own outlines instead of obtaining them form another source; the benefits of doing so are substantial.

 

General Organization of an Outline


          Look at the table of contents of your casebooks. You will see headings and subheadings. That is how to start your outline. Before beginning your semester, create a word document for each of your classes and saving them to a folder labeled with the year and semester, such as "Spring 2012". For each document, open your professor's syllabus and make a heading for each class scheduled. Then go through each assignment and make a subheadings in your document for notes and each case assigned to be read.

          Once you do this, you will have a nice format with which you you can plug in anything you may gather throughout the semester. Don't worry too much about making the outline pretty, you will be editing, condensing, and reformatting it to better suit your studying needs later on.

 

Adding Content

          The best way to build and learn from your outline is to make it a central component in your studying. You should add content by using and editing it while preparing for class, while in class, and for your preparation and review before your exams. By doing so, you will know the relevant aspects of the subject inside and out by the time of the finals exam.

          While Studying: When you are preparing for you next class,  brief your cases under their respective subheadings. by doing so, you will be prepared for class and will have also added a necessary item needed in the outline; two birds with one stone. Also, while studying, if any relevant laws or rules are mentioned, add them under their own subheading.

          In Class: Always keep a separate subheading for class notes. Type your notes directly in the outline, but don't worry about organization while in class, that will come in the next steps when revising the outline. One benefit of using your outline like this is that you will have all of the information you need for class right there in one place. You will have your notes from your readings,and cases, as well as your class notes, so if you are called on by the professor, you will be prepared for the worst.

 

Revision

          Sometime around the middle of the semester, make a copy of your outline and rename it as "Final Outline" (or anything) to differentiate it from the class outline. This will be the framework for your final product. In order to make it a functional tool, you will need to do some work. You will have to cut out the unnecessary parts, reorganize it in a logical manner, and then fill any holes.

          Cut Out the Fat: By now, you have a lot of notes and a lot of case briefs in your outline, and you probably have much more information than needed. Cut out the parts of the cases and notes that you won't need to remember. Leave only few sentences describing the case and the rules extracted from the case, what you want to do is have as few words as needed. The less to remember the better.

          Reorganize: Between makeup classes, your professors style, and the order of chapters in your text book, many of the headings in your outline will not be in a logical sequence. This needs to be fixed so that you can better remember the order in which to approach questions on the final. For example, in my Torts class, the "Reasonable Man" standard was a whole class/heading by itself. In your outline, this shouldn't be a heading, it should be a subheading under the test for determining negligence, and it should be moved there.


          There is a great benefit in going through your notes and re-ordering them like this, it will help you get a better grasp on the tests & court rulings used to determine questions of law that you will be asked to regurgitate on the exam.

          Fill In The Holes: If you missed a class or didn't understand a particular subject very well, you need to look for help. Ask a friend from their notes or look to other sources of outlines. There are tons floating around the internet and your law school.

 

Preparing for Finals

    Revision: Now that the course is complete, it is time to prepare for finals. Repeat all of the steps above to further cut down the length of the outline and ensure that it is ordered logically. Read it over a few times to look for mistakes or parts that you still don't understand; address these with a little research and editing.

    Review: You now have a highly efficient and accurate tool with which to study. Once every day or so, read through all of your outlines with a critical eye, working through the steps in your mind with hypothetical questions.

 

Conclusion


            You might be looking back and wondering if all this work is worth the effort, but trust me, it is. You now possess the keys to acing your exams. While your peers are playing with general flashcards or outlines from who knows where, you have a source of information covering for everything that could possibly be asked on your exams, and which is tailored exactly the way your professor presented the class. You are now ahead of the curve.


           By now, you have gone through all of the information in all of your courses MANY times. You could probably take your exam and pass just from memorization by repetition. But don't stop there, keep working with your outline until the day of the test, occasionally take practice exams or quizzes if available and focus on the parts you have trouble with. Doing all of this will put you ahead of others and should give you the grades you want.

See Also:

Why You Should Write Your Own Outlines