It doesn’t take long for even the greenest law student to discover that a good course outline is important in law school. Law school hallways are often filled with gossip about who has a great outline, where you can acquire outlines from top students, or which commercial outline is best for a particular class. Outlining is indeed essential to law schools success, but it shouldn’t be the only strategy you rely on when preparing for finals. In addition to creating, reviewing, and practicing with your own course outline, you should plan to incorporate some additional strategies into your finals preparations in order to ensure that you have fully mastered the material and skills you will need to succeed on your exams. Here are three additional strategies that go beyond traditional outlining to help you prepare for finals:
1. Write Your Own Hypos
If you’re looking for a study strategy that will give you a lot of bang for your buck, you should try writing your own hypotheticals. Creating your own hypos will enhance your issue spotting skills, clarify your understanding of the rules, and improve your ability to use the appropriate facts in your analysis. Challenge yourself to draft practice questions or come up with examples that could be used to test the various concept covered in class. Trust me, it’s easier said than done! Writing hypos requires you to think about the types of facts that raise particular concepts, which will make it easier for you to spot when those same concepts are being tested on an exam and help you identify when a particular fact needs to be addressed in your analysis. This activity can also refine your comprehension of the substantive law – you simply can’t draft a good hypo without a thorough understanding of the rules you’re trying to test. Writing out answers to practice exams is a must-do activity as you prepare for finals, but creating your own exam-like questions can be just as valuable. To incorporate this strategy into your study routine, exchange your self-written hypos with a partner or small study group and discuss the issues raised and how they should be analyzed.
2. Explain Concepts in Your Own Words (without looking at your notes!)
This is a simple study strategy, but it serves an important purpose. Oftentimes it may seem as though you have memorized a concept because you have read the definition over and over again in your outline, but when it comes time to independently articulate and apply the concept on an exam, you find yourself struggling. To avoid this predicament, make sure you can accurately explain a concept or rule in your own words without relying on notes, cues, or other prompts. Being able to simply and accurately explain a concept will require you to fully comprehend the information as opposed to just relying on your ability to recite a technical definition. It will also force you to truly memorize the concept because you will have to retrieve the information on your own without relying on notes to jog your memory. To add this strategy to your study routine, make a one-page skeletal outline that lists only the major headings you covered in class, then practice naming and explaining the various topics and subtopics that fall under each heading without looking at your notes.
3. Create Alternative Outlines
The traditional, hierarchical outline – complete with roman numerals and appropriate indentations – should definitely be your go-to study aid, but it shouldn’t necessarily be the only study aid you create. Constructing additional study aids that use alternative methods of structuring the information will promote memorization and comprehension of the material, so it’s worth spending some time making additional flow charts, flashcards, tables, color codes, drawings, or anything else that helps you organize, process, and remember the rules. To integrate this strategy into your routine, review your traditional outline to see if there are any concepts or blocks of information that lend themselves to being organized in a different way and then create a new study aid to supplement your outline. For example, you could represent the steps for determining whether subject matter jurisdiction is present in a flow chart or put the definitions and key concepts related to future estates in a table.
There are many useful activities that can help you prepare for finals, but there are also a couple of strategies that you should limit, if not completely avoid. Simply rereading cases or mindlessly highlighting information are two of the most common study techniques that also happen to be two of the least effective ways to study. These strategies are ineffective because they do not require you to actively engage with the material, organize it in a usable manner, or test your understanding. If you find yourself using these methods during finals prep, make sure you’re doing so with a specific goal in mind and don’t rely on them exclusively.
Mixing up your study strategies will promote understanding while also making your exam preparations less repetitive and monotonous. Don’t be afraid to get creative while you’re studying and integrate some strategies that go beyond outlining!
For more helpful advice, check out these articles:
- 4 Benefits to Establishing a Law School Exam Routine
- How Are Those Outlines Coming?
- How to Move from an Outline to an Exam Answer
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.
Explaining concepts in your own words without looking at your notes is great advice. It reminds me of Cal Newport’s approach to studying. It’s an efficient way to prepare!
Thanks! Glad the advice is helpful.