Someone asked a very good question about our last post: 5 Things to Include in Your Law School Class Notes — What do you do with your class notes when it’s time to outline? If you’ve taken useful notes, and broken them into usable chunks, do you even still need an outline?
Why You Still Need an Outline
So, here’s the deal. Even if your class notes are really good, you still need to condense them. Why? Because you can’t possibly memorize and use 100+ pages of information.
The goal of your “outline” (which might not be a traditional outline at all, and could be a collection of related study materials) is to consolidate everything.
Ideally, you want to move from 100+ pages of class notes –> to an outline of around 30 pages –> and then to a 1-2 page “cheat sheet” of some sort, which you can easily memorize (for open and closed book exams) and reference (if you have open book exams).
Why? Because you can’t apply 100 pages of information! No one can. It’s got to be simplified.
How to Go From Class Notes to an Outline
If you’ve organized your class notes as suggested (with five topic headers at the top collecting all the useful information), starting an outline should be pretty easy.
Just identify “topic areas” in the law, and pull all the key elements from your notes together under these topics.
What’s a Topic?
A topic is a broad area like Intentional Torts, or Negligence. Within each area you’ll have subtopics, of course (all the specific Intentional Torts, or Duty, Breach, Causation, and Harm, for example), and you might even have subtopics within the subtopics.
If you’re not sure where to start, check your course syllabus. It’s probably divided into topics and subtopics.
Once you’ve got your topics, find the relevant days of class notes, and start combining all the useful info you highlighted into a more consolidated version. Having a good commercial outline, or an old outline, on hand can help you double-check your work. (But make sure the basic structure follows your course — over-reliance on a commercial outline can waste valuable time if you try to learn things your class didn’t cover.)
When your outline is finished, look it over. What are the two or three most important lines on each page? These become your “mini-outline” — the one you’ll actually have to memorize.
Or, if you prefer, make a flowchart! Either way, keep it to a couple of pages, and you’ll be good to go.
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