Tips for Outlining as a 1L

I’ve just hit the mid-way mark in my Spring Semester as a 1L here at BU Law, and I took advantage of some of the free time that I had over Spring Break to make a comprehensive plan for outlining for exams (and somehow managed to meet my goal despite my jam-packed schedule at home). That being said, I thought I’d share some tips that I picked up from last semester that I am surely taking with me on my outlining journey this semester.

Last semester, I received outlines from older students relatively early on, but we hadn’t learned enough in each course for them to have much meaning to me that soon into the semester. Once I began outlining (right after Halloween – which in retrospect was too late for me personally), I used the outlines that I found best as the holy grail for what I would include in my own outlines. This was helpful in one way, because I had never made an outline before and needed a north star as I was deciding on major headings and what information was relevant to include from each case, but there were also drawbacks to this approach.

For one class in particular, I found myself relying too heavily on a sample outline. The main thing that I learned about myself from that experience was that I don’t internalize and retain information as well when it is not written in my own words. This particular course was the one where I had the least amount of written notes, at no fault of my own or my professor, and so referencing the outline I received felt necessary. Some students can study from an outline that is not their own and completely understand and remember its contents, but I learned that, for myself, I recall information best when it is written in my exact wording, italicizing, and bolding. This is the main lesson I’m taking with me into this semester, as well as to start outlining a bit earlier. I am also relying more on supplements this semester than last, and have included information from them on topics that I have found more challenging in each course within my outline itself.

My final piece of advice here is to be as organized as possible in making an actual game plan for outlining. It can be so easy with the general demands of the semester to have a goal to outline for a certain amount of hours per week/weekend, and to keep pushing that abstract goal off because of other obligations. However, I took a bit of time over break to get intentional about what weeks of each class I plan to cover each weekend, and I think that will make all the difference for me this semester. It won’t be perfect (because it never is), but I think having these benchmarks in mind will definitely help the process.

So my main tip here (and when it comes to law school in general) is this: find what works for you, and make accommodations along the way as you see fit. Don’t feel pressure to have a certain number of pages in your outline, or even to write everything in your own words if you can learn and retain information that others have written. There truly is no one right way to do this, but regardless of how you study best, it’s always important to be mindful of what works and doesn’t work for you personally – and to keep refining along the way.

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