All About Outlining

Finals are creeping up and that means that it's time to start really thinking about outlining. Last year, I wrote a post called How to: Outline. Now that I have one and a half more semesters under my belt, I wanted to post again about outlining.

Last semester, I outlined throughout the semester. At the end of the day (for one class) or the end of the week for the others, I would update my outlines. I found this EXTREMELY helpful because instead of finishing my outline at the end of the semester, I could spend my time reviewing and taking practice exams.

This semester, my goal was to outline every week, but 2L year took over and I was not able to keep up with this. Thankfully, over fall break, I was able to catch up a bit, and now am trying very hard to keep updating my outlines every week.

How do you start an outline?
I believe the best way to start an outline is from the syllabus. Sometimes, it is hard to tell when professors switch topics, especially if they go back and forth between topics a lot. However, the syllabus will provide the topics, the order they are covered in, along with the reading for each topic. This can be extremely helpful when outlining. Sometimes, professors even structure their syllabus in a way that provides headings and subheadings for outlines. This is even more helpful because you can literally copy and paste the topics into your outline.

So what are some things that should go in an outline?
I usually start out my outlines with everything I took notes on. Then, as the semester goes on, I see what is truly important. I take the unimportant things out and will emphasize what is important. Typically definitions, statutes (depending on the class), rules, and standout cases are important and should be included on an outline.

How long should it be?
I've had some outlines as short as 16 or so pages and some longer than 100. It depends on the class, what you can bring into the exam, and your knowledge of the material. It also depends if you put everything in the outline or just some things.

Does it have to be in outline form?
Nope, absolutely not. In fact, I usually format mine so it's not a strict outline, but more like a study guide. It looks nicer and is easy for me to read that way.

Do you have to outline? 
No- but it is smart to at least have some type of outline or study guide to use to either prepare for the final or use during the final.

What about old outlines? Should I use outlines I get from outline banks or older students?
These are definitely great resources, but don't rely on them. First of all, they may not have had the same professor. That professor could have added or taken out some material from the course. Also, while outlines are helpful to study off of, they are even more helpful to make. You learn more when you write or type something up. If I get old outlines, I will use them to beef up my own or for clarification, but I don't just use an old outline I got.

What about if my final is open/closed note? Does that change how I should outline?
For me, I don't really change my outline for open or closed note finals. Some good advice I received was for open note finals, the more you need your outline, the worse you will do. While this may or may not be true, it captures the importance of studying and being prepared. However, if your final is open notes and you are limited to a certain amount of pages, make sure your outline is within that limit.

What questions do you have about outlining? Leave them in the comments and I will answer them! Good luck with beginning to prepare and think about finals!


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