How to Outline


After being an orientation leader for two years now, I've noticed one specific thing that consistently confuses and scares incoming 1Ls: outlining. One you're in law school, you drop that word so casually and it becomes such a normal part of your vocabulary that we just expect everyone around us to know what we're talking about. But that's not the case. 

So, first off, what the heck is an outline? 

In law school, outlines are created to summarize what you've learned in a class over the course of a semester. For some classes, you'll be allowed to use them during your final exam to help you recall information. You syphon the most important information from your classes so you can succeed on your exams. 

Below, I'll go in-depth about how to outline, as well as provide some outlining tips that I've picked up over my time in law school. 

How to Outline

1. Gather all your materials together. 

By materials, I mean anything you've used throughout the semester in your class. This can be your casebook, syllabus, class notes, supplements, etc. You'll want to have these all on hand because they'll be able to help you stay organized and on top of your outlining. 

You'll use your syllabus to figure out how to organize the structure of your outline. You can also use your syllabus to figure out why you read each case (i.e., what rule of law were you supposed to get out of it?), which will be helpful when you begin creating the substance of your outline. 

Your casebook is obviously used to look back at the cases you've read over the course of the semester, and you can also use the table of contents along with your syllabus to determine why you were assigned to read each case. 

Your class notes also have an obvious use: they're what your professor and you found to be most important in each lecture. 

2. Identify Important Concepts 

Like I mentioned above, you can use your syllabus and the table of contents in your casebook to determine the overall concepts you will need to include in your outline. You'll organize your outline around these concepts and the rules of law that apply to them. 

After you lay everything out, you can start to fill in the gaps with rules, case law, and anything else that you think you'll find helpful during your exam. 

3. Get Into the Details 

Once you get ready to fill in the gaps, you can make your outline as detailed as you need to when you're first creating it. Remember, you can always edit it down. 

Fill in cases that are great examples of rules, important points your professor made, whatever you think you'll need to be successful on your exam. 

Tips and Tricks for Your Outline

1. Don't just copy your class notes down 

Copying your class notes word for word won't help you learn or understand the concepts. Your notes probably aren't as organized as you need an outline to be, too, and organization is key to using an outline on an exam. 

2. Test and re-test your outline 

You won't know how effective your outline is on an exam if you don't test it while studying. By using your outline on practice problems and practice tests, you'll figure out what you're missing from your outline and how well you're able to use it while testing. 

3. Make flow charts 

I'm a very visual person, so having a quick way to move through IRAC is super helpful. Even if flow charts aren't your thing, you can try different stuff out until you figure out what works best for you. 

Good luck outlining!




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