Note-taking can be considered a necessary evil: in order to be successful, you need to take notes. But how do you know if your notes are good? And how are law school notes different than undergraduate? Note taking can be very stressful and time-consuming which adds to the stress of law school. While note-taking appears to be an ability that some people are born with, it is normally an acquired trait through hard work. These are some tips that I have found useful in becoming a good note-taker!
Be an Active Note-taker
What does that even mean? Well, being an active note-taker means taking notes that will contribute to your comprehension of the material on a critical-thinking level. This means that instead of just writing down what your casebook or professor says, connect topics that you are learning about now to subjects you have gone over in the past. This will not only keep you engaged, but it may also give you an extra leg-up when in comes to exams. Professors typically give As out to students that go above and beyond the call of the question (Note: this does depend on the professor, but on average, most professors prefer critical-thinking/connecting dots). If you are able to make a public policy argument or connect topics seamlessly, you may get a grade bump!
Studying Notes vs. Class Notes
Unlike in undergraduate, I take notes while I study/prepare for class and then supplement those notes with class notes. My “studying” notes usually include briefs of cases we cover, summaries of new topics, questions I might have, and things that I do not fully understand. During class, I add any answers or insights on my confusions and supplement my studying notes with my further understanding of the topic. I usually try to include class discussions and hypotheticals, which help when reviewing for the exam. Your class notes should also have your professor’s convictions/contentions on a topic in order to understand what they want you to get from the subject.
Note-taking to Outline
If you have not heard about the importance of outlines (and I am sure you have) then let me be the first to tell you: outlines are crucial to success in law school. Why is that? Well, because outlines serve as your attack plan for exams. They literally outline the course which helps you answer essay/exam prompts. By going through and typing/converting your notes onto an outline, you are also reviewing the material for the exam. This can also help you see the bigger picture on what the purpose of the class is (especially for a class like Constitutional Law or Civil Procedure in which most students get the aha moment towards the end of the semester). Outlines are designed to help convert what you learned in class into an organized thought process for exam purposes.
Review and Revise
The process of taking notes is very important but it is crucial that you review and revise your notes. After you convert your notes into an outline, you will need to reorganize and review your notes in order for your outline to be the most beneficial for you. As you learn more about a topic, you begin to connect dots that were previously not there and be able to elaborate on subjects in more depth. Your earlier impressions may have been misled or off base. Or a question you had previously was answered later in the course. This is why it is important to go back and review your notes, to avoid confusion and strengthen your understanding of the material.
Everyone takes notes based on their preferences. Thus, do not feel obligated that you have to take notes a certain way. If something is not working for you, stop doing it. The purpose of note-taking is to ensure your success. If the way you are taking notes is not helping you achieve this goal, then you need to modify your process. Ultimately, the quantity and quality of your notes depend on your experience and understanding of the course, so don’t stress about it! Taking notes should not be stressful! It should be a helpful and useful tool that betters your understanding of the law.
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Other helpful law school tips:
- 7 Tips to Improve Your Law School Notes
- The Art of Notetaking
- Are You Taking Good Law School Notes
- More Reasons to Handwrite Class Notes
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