How To

How to: Outline

I despise outlining. It’s tedious, I don’t retain anything from outlining, and I’m such a perfectionist that I redo my outlines constantly. That being said, there is no right way to outline and how you outline may depend on class. For example, my legislation outline is a traditional outline. My secured transactions outline will be a flow chart. It all depends on how you think the outline will best help you on the exam. I’m also big into using flash cards. For my constitutional law class last semester, we had 100 cases we had to memorize for the exam. I made a notecard for each and taped them by category onto my wall in my living room. Messy, yes. Effective, hell yes.

If you’re having trouble figure out how to start an outline, here’s an outlining 101 guideline for you.


Step #1: Start with the basic headings of things you know you need to know. This is part of my legislation outline. I knew for the exam we would have to know about the legislative process (passing a bill). Then I determined we would have to know the difference between different types of legislation. I didn’t define or give any notes on the type of legislation yet, but having a preliminary list helps you see where you need to go in your notes and book to find all the answers you need.


Step #2: Get more detailed with your outline. Here is my “how a bill becomes a law”. I so wish I could just put in the School House Rock video but that is definitely not allowed for exams. Instead, I went through the legislative process step by step, much like I did for the types of legislation. Then, I pulled out my notes and book to fill in more information for the sections I would need more information on. The “placed on a calendar” section is pretty self explanatory to me so I didn’t include any additional information but if it is something you think you may forget, you can always add in more information than I have.


Step #3: Make tables and charts to organize information. This table is in a section of my outline that discusses the differences between the House and Senate. Because it was in list form in my notes and I knew the information in table form, it was easier to insert the table and see the information side by side instead of in one long list. You could also do one long list but for me this was easier.

Step #4: Make a “issues covered” cover sheet. Now, I haven’t gotten this far in my outlining yet and honestly, I probably won’t until our reading break right before exams. Having one sheet that lists all the things you can be tested on without any information is really helpful for issue spotting on exams. For example, a torts cover sheet would list:

1. Battery

2. Assault

3. False imprisonment

and would cover all the substantive issues you’ve learned about over the summer. You can also put what page in your outline each topic is covered so when you come across a battery question, you immediately know that information is one page 4. During exams, this is the most helpful sheet you will have. It’s easy to get lost in exams and leave realizing you never covered battery but should have so you definitely missed something. This way, you see all the issues you should be looking for and can check them off as you go. If you get to the end of your exam and have everything except battery checked off, you know to go reread the problems for a battery issue.

No matter how you outline, make sure it is useful for your exam. If you can’t use the outline on the exam, it’s useless to have. Try not to use your outline as much as possible and use it only as a safety net in case you really can’t remember something. Good luck!


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