5.3 – When to Outline


When to Outline

Outlining is important, and in addition to figuring out how to outline, you're also going to have questions about when to outline. When should I be doing this? I can't give you a perfect answer to that question, but I will say that if you can start the process before you finish your classes, you're going to be in much better shape. You're going to feel a little bit less panicked. You're going to feel a little bit less rushed when it comes exam time.

I think, in a perfect world, in an absolutely perfect world, and I'm understanding that basically none of you are going to live in this perfect world, because it's just too challenging on top of keeping up with all your reading, and there's a lot of reading to keep up with your first semester or first year of law school, but in a perfect world, you would be outlining immediately as you go so that you wrap up your outline very shortly after wrapping up your last day of class. Then, in that break time in between whenever classes finish up and when exams start up, and different schools have different amounts of time in between, you have some time to really sit with your outline and maybe use it as a study guide.

Now, I recognize that's not going to be possible for everybody, especially at the beginning. You're probably going to spend a long time doing this. You're going to be spending a long time reading, and we all procrastinate a little bit. I'm just telling you what the ideal is so you have some understanding. I do think you want to try to plan ahead a little bit so that you're not finishing your outline the night before your exam. That's not going to be quite enough time because you do need to have just a little bit of time where you're not still outlining. You're doing some other stuff to get ready for the exam. I'm going to talk about that more in Class 6 about exam prep.

One thing that a lot of people do is they, depending on your schedule, depending on how the academic calendar looks, maybe you have a break at some point in the semester, maybe you have some time over Thanksgiving and then there's classes after that, or maybe you have fall break earlier in the semester, especially your first year, as much fun as it would be to go just do a vacation and get your mind off law school, and I certainly encourage you to do things to get your mind off law school, that might be a good time to just say, "Okay, I'm going to really take a couple of days and try to at least get a head start on my outline so that I don't feel like I'm totally scrambling at the end."

Outlining is just a means to succeeding in exams and not an end in itself.

I do think you need to recognize that the outline is not the goal. The outline is a way to achieve your goal, which is succeeding on your law school exams. If you get to a point where creating the perfect outline is getting in the way of having enough time to do the active study that I want you to do, and active exam prep, the kind of stuff I'm going to tell you to do in the next class, it might be time to stop outlining, or at least to simplify the process. Maybe you are making the process too complicated.

Adopting an outlining strategy that maybe isn't encouraging you to write a 150-page outline but a shorter, slimmer document could both help your learning process and also could give you a little bit more time to get to a comfortable place where you can really focus on the kind of prep I want you to do.

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