Tag Archives: diagrams

Types of Law School Outlines

In the past two posts, we have explored what law school outlines are and what kinds of information they should include. It is also important for you to consider the type of outline you want to create—in other words, its format. Not everyone approaches outlining in the same way—it is not one-size-fits-all. Instead, many students consider their learning preferences in deciding how to format their outlines. Regardless of which format you choose, I want to stress that the content is the same—all of the things that I described in yesterday’s post should be included in every person’s outline.

So what types of law school outlines are there? Here are several options that you may consider, although this is not an exclusive list:

The Traditional Law School Outline: When we use the word “outline,” people commonly think of the traditional, formal documents that are organized by Roman numerals. For example, in Torts, your first Roman numeral might be “Intentional Torts.” Letter “A” might set out the general requirements for Intentional Torts, while letter “B” might set out specific examples of intentional torts to persons, such as assault, battery, etc. Each of those examples would be identified by number, and lower-case letters would further break down the sub-issues within each type of intentional tort. The result is a tightly organized, formal outline. Reading and writing learners often choose to create traditional outlines. Once this type of outline is completed, aural learners may use text-to-audio programs to convert the traditional outline to audio files.

Although many law students do create traditional outlines, there are actually many other forms that also work for synthesizing course material.

The Modified Traditional Outline: Some students like the organization created by the traditional outline but do not like to the Roman numeral system. Those students may use other formatting tools, such as bolding, underlining, tabs, and bullet points to organize their course information. Explore some of the formatting options in Microsoft Word and other programs—you may find a particular formatting tool that works especially well for your outlines. Keep in mind that white space can also be a good tool—too much print concentrated on the page makes the outline hard to study from later.

Like the traditional outline, reading and writing learners often choose to use the modified outline approach. Visual learners may also find this approach helpful. As with the traditional law school outline, aural learners may use text-to-audio programs to convert this type of outline to audio files.

Tables: Some law students use the table function in Microsoft Word or other programs to create organized, visually-differentiated sections. Each section becomes a separate table, and you can even insert tables within tables to further organize information. Because the text is still very much the focus of the table approach to outlining, reading and writing learners may find it useful. Visual learners may also find tables helpful.

Image courtesy of Pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Flow Charts and Diagrams: Still other students create flow charts or diagrams to organize course information, especially if they are visual learners or kinesthetic learners. Translating course materials into flow charts or diagrams, whether in whole or in part, can help you to visualize the process that you will use in applying the law to facts. Kinesthetic learners can use these tools to simulate the type of analysis they will use on exams. If the course information is too complex, you may need to utilize flow charts or diagrams in combination with one of the other outlining techniques I’ve described in this post.

Mind Maps: Occasionally, students find Mind Maps useful, and they may use mind mapping software to create webs of legal information, presented in something different than the traditional linear form. There are a variety of different mind mapping programs out there, either free or available for a small fee. Like flow charts and diagrams, it is important not to oversimplify your studies with this type of tool though. If you decide to mind map, choose a program which allows you to incorporate more detailed information into the mind map.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Flashcards: You may also create a flashcard system, either as your main form of outlining or as a supplement to another outlining form (for example, you might create flashcards for important definitions or legal tests to make it easier to memorize those concepts). Some students color code their flashcards to signal connections between different cards. Others use flashcards of different sizes to signal that the card addresses an issue versus a sub-issue. If you plan to make flashcards your main form of outlining, it is important to develop a system for recognizing the connections between concepts on different cards.

Experiment with different ways of organizing your outline—you may be surprised about what works best for you. Additionally, what works for one class may not work as well for another. Periodically reevaluate your approach to outlining to make sure you are maximizing your outlines’ potential.


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Filed under General, Outlines, Study Tips

Diagramming the Bar Exam: Using Visual Prompts to Strengthen Memory

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Studying for the bar exam is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. It’s important to not to take a passive approach to your studies. Although commercial bar prep materials are helpful when you are studying for the bar, you should go beyond the pre-packaged outlines and videos. Don’t forget what you have discovered about your learning preferences as a student in law school. Using different approaches to attack your study materials can have a significant effect on what you remember for the exam.

I have already discussed one way that you can change up your bar studies approach: flashcards. Today, I want to talk about another technique that can help you remember more of what you study: the creation of diagrams, flow charts, and other visual materials. If you are a visual learner, diagrams and flow charts can help you to remember the steps required for legal analysis of complex legal issues or how various sub-issues are related to each other. The process of creating the diagram or flow chart helps you to synthesize important legal principles, and, having studied the diagram or flow chart, you should be able to recall it more easily in the midst of the exam.

Here’s a simple example of how such a diagram or flow cart could be constructed. Let’s say you are reviewing Contracts, and you want to make sure that you remember the key steps for determining whether an enforceable contract has been created. Here’s what a simple version of that diagram might look like:contracts flow chart

Keep in mind, this would only be the starting point. As you continued to study, you might decide you want to incorporate more concepts into the flow chart, such as: (1) Mistake; (2) whether terms were definite; (3) whether promissory estoppel should apply; etc. You may make several versions of the flow chart before you have incorporated everything you want into it. The process of thinking through where all of the legal principles should fit will help you to remember them better, and in the end you will have a study aid that you can reference over the next several weeks as you study for the bar.

The key is to not get stuck studying your bar materials in a passive way—figure out a way to make it yours, and you will know it even better!

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Filed under Bar Exam, General, Study Tips