5.7 – Distilling Your Outline: Flowcharts and Checklists


Distilling Your Outline

Outlining your outlines using flowcharts and checklists, making them more condensed in one or two pages

You've gone through this whole process and you've distilled your outline down, and you might think you're done creating materials. You can just now go into the study phase. We're close, but we're not quite there.

I'm going to ask you to do one additional thing, which is, I'm actually going to ask you to outline your outline. That is, with outlining, the process was that you go through all the material and you distill, let's say, maybe a thousand pages of casebook reading and notes into an outline that's twenty, thirty, forty, fifty pages, something like that. You're really boiling it down.

I want you to do that whole thing again. I want you to distill the outline into a much smaller document. Again, this is going to be active study, active learning, where you are going through an outline and you're going to be making some hard choices about, "What are the really most critical things? If I had to distill the most important things in this class on a one- or two-page document, what would go there?"

There are going to be things that you're going to have to leave out, things that you might end up wanting to talk about on the exam, so this isn't necessarily the whole sum of knowledge that you need for your exam. If that were the case, law school would be a lot easier. You could just memorize one or two pages and that would be it. You wouldn't need to be in class for three months.

Nonetheless, the process of trying to figure out, "Okay, what are the real highlights that go into a short document like this?" is going to, again, make you learn the material better. It's going to put it into a deeper, more permanent structure in your mind where you know how the pieces fit together, you know what's important, what is less important. Now, what exactly the shorter document looks like maybe will depend a little bit on your class and what exactly the type of learner that you are. Some people might like to create visual flowcharts that summarize the relationship between the key topics in the class.

I can tell you what I did when I was a law student, which is, I would take my outline and I would distill it into a checklist that was written in question format, the idea being this would be kind of a document that I could look at if I were ever faced with a law school issue-spotter exam prompt. I could just ask these questions and they would lead me to flag all the key issues.

These were written in outline format, with questions and then subquestions below that, and then sometimes sub-subquestions, again corresponding to the structure of the issues in the class and corresponding to the structure that I'd laid out in my outline. Something you could just apply to any fact pattern. First, was there a contract formed? Then you might have subquestions. Was there an offer? Was there acceptance? Was there a consideration? And so forth. You just keep going through all the issues and you figure out how it all fits together.

If you've done your job correctly, you end up with something that captures probably 99% of the possible points on a law school issue-spotter-type exam. Having gone through that process, you really will have taught yourself, again, what is most important and how do these issues fit together, and when would I think about them? Where in the process of thinking about a set of facts would my brain want to deal with this particular issue?

Maybe there's different orders. There's no one magical order everything has to go in, but you want to have an order that you've settled on in your own mind that you find satisfying. You do this, and then maybe you'll look at other materials. You'll go back and look at your outline a little bit, flip through it, and you say, "Okay, wait, there was this thing we talked about in Class 7, and I guess I don't really have a way that that fits into my flow chart, so I'm missing something. I need to figure out, where would I ask that question? Where does this fit?" You think, "Is that a remedies question, or is that more a question about the cause of action?" or something like that, depending on the class.

You ask these hard questions, and in the process of going through that thought process, again, you've now learned it that much better. You will walk away with a document that you can actually actively use in studying and taking an exam. I'll talk more about that later on, but for now, I'm more focused on the process of creating these documents for its own sake. The creation process is the thing that actually helps you learn the material more deeply in a way that it's actually going to stick in your mind as long as you need it to, to perform well on an exam.

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