How To: Outline

Just like reading and briefing cases, outlining is one of the critical tools learned during the first semester of law school. Outlining is a tool that law students use to organize the information they have learned and for preparing for exams. There are two methods that I used this past semester for outlining, and I will share both of them with you.

Throughout the Semester:
The first method I used was outlining throughout the semester. I only did this method with one class, but I will be doing it with all of my classes in the future. Each week, I would transfer all of the rules and important info from class into a "Final Outline," using the headings from the book. At the end of the semester, I went through my teacher's syllabus and used those headings instead of the book ones. This way, I made sure that I did not miss any important topics. 
There are two main benefits from this method: (1) By putting info into my outline when I learned them, everything was fresh and I had all of the info about that topic, not just some. (2) It saved so much time at the end of the semester- time that I would've used to outline, but instead used to study for that final. The main con to this method is that it takes a lot of time during the semester.

A modified way to do this, which I did for one of my classes, is to start outlining about halfway through the semester. For the rest of the semester, I would update the outline at the end of the unit. I liked this method as well, but since I now know how to outline, I think I will outline throughout the semester because it is the best way to get all of the info that may be important for the final, instead of just the highlights.

At the End of the Semester:
For my other classes, I waited to outline until the second half of the semester and finished them right before finals began. In this method, I wait until the end of the semester to look at my notes (conveniently organized in my binder) and materials from my professor, including the syllabus to make my outline. 
This is not the best method, but I would say it is the most realistic. During the semester, you have so much work that the last thing you want to do, with what little free time you have, is outline. Plus, it is almost a guarantee that even if you outline throughout the semester, you will have to work on it at the end of the semester, even if it is just to modify its format. The main benefit to this method is that you will have a lot better idea of what you have learned. When outlining throughout the semester, it may sometimes be unclear what you are learning and how it all relates to each other. The biggest cons to this method is that it takes a lot of time, especially right before finals, and that all of the information is not fresh in your mind and you may miss some really important info.

Overall, I think that outlining throughout the semester is the best method, but may not be the most realistic. If it is not possible to outline throughout the semester, I would try to start halfway through the semester (either fall or spring break) and then update the outline as much as possible for the rest of the semester.  How do you outline? Leave your method(s) in the comments!


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