Everyone in law school seems to appreciate the importance of having a great outline. A great outline condenses a semester’s worth of material into a reasonable length and organizes the information in a way that will help you spot issues and analyze fact patterns. What some students don’t appreciate, however, is the importance of making their own great outline. With all the other demands on your time, it can be tempting to forgo the outlining process and buy a commercial outline or borrow an outline from another student. But you must resist this temptation! To motivate you to devote some time during the remainder of the semester to outlining, here are ten reasons why you should make your own outline:
1. You can tailor your outline to the course.
Every professor emphasizes different topics and every professor has a slightly different take on how they teach the law. You’re the one (hopefully) sitting in class each day, listening to the professor’s lecture, and taking notes, so only you can create an outline that is tailored to the class the way your professor has taught it. Commercial outlines are written for a broad audience and won’t contain the nuances or distinctions that are important to your professor. Even an outline from a student who took the course in a prior year won’t be as helpful as something you create, because professors may change their topic coverage from year to year.
2. You can’t trust the quality of another outline.
While the student you’re borrowing an outline from may claim that she/he got a top grade, you can never really know for sure whether the outline will be a quality study aid. Even commercial outlines can be out of date or inaccurate. The only way you’ll know whether an outline covers all the material from your course, the way your professor wants it, in an accurate way, is to make the outline yourself.
3. Memorizing will be easier.
You generally have to remember a lot of material for final exams, and it will be easier to remember all that information if it’s written in your own words rather than a style that is unfamiliar to you. Additionally, the process of writing out the information yourself, rather than just reading another person’s statements over and over, will help the information stay lodged in your memory.
4. Your outline can reflect your learning style.
A commercial outline or a borrowed outline won’t be designed to work with your specific learning preferences. If you make your own outline, you can insert charts, include graphics, add explanations, hyperlink to audio files, or do lots of other things to tailor the document to your specific learning style.
5. Outlining promotes spaced repetition.
If you buy or borrow an outline, you’ll have a finished product ready for final exams, but you probably won’t have reviewed any of the material until it’s crunch time. Alternatively, if you make your own outline, you’ll be forced to spend some time reviewing the material from your course periodically throughout the semester, which will promote comprehension and retention.
6. You can use your outline to make other study aids.
Although the outline is often the primary study aid for finals, it’s not always the only study aid. Flow charts, tables, flashcards, and other graphic organizers can be helpful documents when it’s time to prepare for exams. You’ll be starting from scratch if you buy or borrow an outline, but if you’ve already spent some time outlining the material, you’ll be able to make these additional study aids a lot quicker and easier.
7. Writing rule statements will be easier.
Knowing and comprehending the blackletter law is crucial to exam success. Outlining requires you to paraphrase the legal rules and tests your knowledge of how they fit together, which will improve your ability to quickly and accurately explain the blackletter law on an essay exam.
8. Making an outline saves you money.
The price of a commercial outline may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to your tuition, but if make your own outline for each class rather than buying one, the savings will add up!
9. Outlining will help you draft a better essay exam.
Great essay exams are always clear, organized, and address the issues in a logical order. If you create an outline that shares these same qualities, it will improve your ability to write a great exam answer.
10. Outlining helps you learn!
Last, but not least, creating an outline will help you learn the material, which is really the whole point! The process of outlining – of grappling with the concepts, of thinking about how topics relate, of synthesizing the rules into a complete and comprehensible form – is just as important as the final product. Reading through a commercial or borrowed outline will almost never leave you with the same level of comprehension as you achieve from outlining yourself.
Outlining isn’t an easy process and it takes a lot of time, which is why so many students fall back on commercial or borrowed outlines at the end of the semester. But all the time and hard work it takes to make an outline will be worth it because it will translate into a better exam performance. So make some time in your weekly schedule and get to work on those outlines. You’ll be glad you did!
Did you find this post helpful? Check out these other great articles:
- When is the Best Time to Start Outlining Your Law School Courses?
- Tackling Outlines Mid-Semester
- Need Help with Outlining for Law School Exams?
- How to Make a Useful Law School Outline
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