Attention 1Ls (and 2Ls, too): Outlining season has arrived

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[ Stephanie Baldwin, 2L at the University of Arizona ]

Yes, it’s time to outline. As 2Ls, we likely have our system set and we know what we need … but I remember last year, as a 1L, feeling lost. There were some things that I just did not understand how to do effectively my first semester. I learned a lot from my first experience and I did much better during my second semester. So fellow 1Ls, this blog is for you. Maybe it can help some 2Ls, as well.

Here are my four tips to help you outline more effectively:

1) Don’t wait until Thanksgiving

If you are reading this and haven’t started your outlines, you need to get going. Last year, Thanksgiving was the third week of November, so we had a nice buffer to start working toward completing our outlines. My school had midterms, so many of us already had outlines that just needed to be updated. Thanksgiving was a great time to work on updating these … or starting on them … so if you haven’t yet, don’t wait until Thanksgiving is my best advice. I also highly recommend you check out for everything you really need to know about outlining.

Don't wait to start working on your outlines

2) Understand how to use your outline

When I was a 1L students, I saw my outline as a security blanket rather than a tool. I put so much in my outline that it was hard to use effectively. Part of this was because I did not practice with my outline enough. But in reality, I didn’t fully comprehend that my outline was a tool to help me memorize the material and allow me to be familiar with it. When I did use my outline on practice tests, my practice focused on how to use my outline efficiently rather than how to answer the questions effectively.  It sounds silly now, but It was so easy to get caught up in the process of answering, rather than mastering the material to create a good answer.

3) Create an attack outline

This was perhaps the biggest difference between my first and second semesters. My outlines second semester all had an effective attack outline that had only the key components on them. Rather than using my big outline, I exclusively used an attack outline. It had just enough information to trigger my memory which enabled me to be able to write what I needed. An attack outline might just be a flowchart, the elements or a bullet point of the needed cases per topic. It really is up to you, and you discover this through practice.

4) Practice with your outline

Practice tests can be your best friend. Most schools have a database of tests and if they do not, a quick Google search will provide some examples. Always try to get practice exams from your professor. Practicing with your outline is good for a few reasons. It helps you learn the material, and this will allow you to go faster on test day. Additionally, practicing will help you decide what to have on your attack outline. Do you forget elements? Do you need a checklist to make sure you hit all of the cases? Has your professor walked you through the way they want questions answered? Practicing will help you see what you overlook and these are all great elements to include on your attack outline.

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