Outlining

Course outlines are what most law students use to help master the topics covered in each course. An outline is a study tool that helps organize a vast amount of information, including rules, cases, additional readings, and lecture notes from each class. Course outlines are most effective when prepared by the student during the course of the semester and put to use in preparation for examination. Key points to remember are:

  1. Preparing outlines counts as studying. It is the very process of outlining — reviewing materials, organizing the information, and continually updating and adding to it — that will aid in both your memorization and comprehension. By preparing your own outlines, you can be sure that the document will be specific to your course and that you have taken an active role in learning the material.

  2. Commercial outlines are not sufficient. While commercial outlines are a good place to seek additional clarification and practice questions, commercial outlines may not be organized in the manner your professor structured the course, may not incorporate the same cases your professor will want you to use as support for the rules, and may not use the same terminology presented in your lecture.

  3. Outlines should be organized and comprehensive. To prepare your outline, you will want to gather your course syllabus, case briefs and casebook, any handouts or lecture slides, lecture notes, and any other supplements and materials. Your course syllabus and the table of contents of your casebook should help form the skeletal organization of your outline. As you proceed in the course, you want to include rules covered in each area (along with the rules stated in your own words to assist in your understanding), case summaries to demonstrate how each rule is applied, any exceptions to the rules, and hypotheticals and policy discussions to deepen your understanding and ultimately your analysis during exams. Closer to exams, you may want to prepare an abbreviated version.

  4. Start early. Outlining is a project that you should be working on throughout each semester. An outline is a document that should grow and evolve as you gain understanding of the course materials. It is a learning tool that will be most effective to you if you regularly refer to it during lecture and study group discussions. You should also take practice exams to test the thoroughness of the document and your comprehension of and ability to apply the information contained within. This is only possible if you start preparing your outlines earlier in the semester and continue to build on and use them regularly throughout the semester.

For more detailed guidance, please watch our presentation, “Course Outlining: The Importance of Preparing Course Outlines and How to Prepare Outlines for Exam Success,” on TWEN. We also encourage you to make an appointment with the Academic Support Program to gain additional guidance and support on outlining.