How to Learn Your Law School Outlines: So many students go into law school exams thinking they understand the materials or “have an idea” of most of the concepts. Some go in with a false sense of confidence if they have an “open book” exam (when in reality, you will not have time to consult your outline or materials very often during the exam!).
To score high on a law school exam, there are four steps: First you need to have good materials. (This is why you make your outlines early! For an in-depth guide to outlining, see this post.) Next, you need to understand those materials. (This happens through lecture or private tutoring or reading supplements to assist you.) Third, you have to memorize them. Lastly you have to apply what you know to a law school exam.
This blog post focuses on the third step, the memorization part. Learning the skill of memorization will help you both in law school and when you are studying for the bar exam. We recommend you start memorizing your law school outlines as soon as you make them. (And we recommend you make your law school outlines ASAP!)
How to Learn your Law School Outlines:
Many students feel overwhelmed by the amount they have to learn. Here are some tips for memorizing your law school outlines.
1. Make your own outlines. We say this ad nauseum because it is so important to make your own outlines! It is much easier to understand and memorize something you have organized. If you really don’t have time to make your own from scratch, at least make the outlines that you have your own as much as you can – make charts, color-code them, etc. We think the best route is to make your own law school outlines.
2. Actively review your outlines. Many students try to learn their law school outlines by reading them multiple times; however, it is much better to actively review your outlines. This allows you to concentrate on the material, understand it, and remember it.
How do you actively review your outlines? Color-code them. Draw diagrams and pictures. Invent mnemonics. Repeat information out loud. Explain it to a friend. Quiz yourself and quiz others. I used to cover up my outlines, then try to jot down (not in neat handwriting — in messy handwriting!) everything I knew about a topic. Then, I’d look back at my outline, see what I was missing, and repeat it until I got everything. Then I’d move on to the next section.
We don’t recommend that you re-write all of your outlines super-neatly (that tends to take a lot of time and be mindless!) We also don’t recommend you make flashcards out of all of your outlines (flashcards are good for certain portions of the exam but making flashcards for every part of every subject is too time-consuming!). See this post on how to use law school flashcards the right way, if you like to use flashcards.
3. Go through one section at a time, then move on. If you have a 50-page outline, go through the first ten pages over and over again, until you know them. Only then should you move on to the next ten pages. If you try to learn all 50 pages at once, you will feel anxious and overwhelmed. During your semester (and even during your study period before law school final exams), focus on one or two classes a day. There is no reason to focus on all four classes every day. That will be overwhelming and you won’t get enough done!
4. Take breaks. Memorizing is hard work. You cannot memorize outlines all day. Instead, incorporate frequent breaks into your studying. You can also give yourself a break by doing different tasks throughout the day (i.e., instead of saying, “I’m going to memorize outlines all day” incorporate other tasks like practicing exams or reading supplements.)
5. Make sure you understand the material as you are actively reviewing it. If you understand how or why something works, you will memorize it better. If you have trouble with a concept, google it, or ask someone who may know the answer or get a private tutor if you find yourself really struggling. Understanding the rationale for a rule or being able to come up with real-life examples of how a rule works can aid in memorization.
6. Focus on what matters. You cannot learn everything about every law for every class perfectly. Focus on the portions of the law that your professor emphasized in class or seemed to care about the most. Focus on what your professor has tested in the past. Be smart about how you spend you study time.
7. Keep coming back to your outlines. It is not enough to look at something once, memorize it, and then put it away for a few weeks. (So much of your hard work will be wasted!) Instead, keep reviewing your law school outlines. Try to review each one at least once a week. That way, you can use your study period to review your outlines for a final time and take practice exams (rather than relearning everything again!)
If you have any tips for learning your law school outlines, please let us know what they are! Good luck!
Ms. Ashley Heidemann scored over a 180 on the Michigan Bar Exam in February of 2011. She offers private one-on-one tutoring for law students and bar exam students nationwide as well as Michigan bar exam courses and seminars . For any questions about her services, please click here to contact us. We are happy to assist you in any way we can.