Finding Study Aids and Making Outlines

| By: Susan Good

As exams near, it’s time to start thinking about finding study aids and making outlines for your classes. Even though most professors will not allow you to consult study aids during exams, reviewing and creating outlines are good ways to prepare for finals. Some people prefer to use existing commercial outlines or to borrow a friend’s outline. Other people make their own outlines. Some people do both. This article presents some useful resources for each approach.

A good way to find study aids related to a particular text (e.g., E. Allan Farnsworth, Contracts: Cases and Materials (7th ed. 2008)) is to use lawbooksforless.com’s advanced search page. Searching for Title: “Contracts,” Author: “Farnsworth,” and Publisher: “Foundation,” brings up a link for the relevant casebook. Clicking on the casebook brings you to a page that includes a product description, pricing information, and most importantly, a list of “case briefs that are related to this product” which indicates if any resources (e.g., High Court Case Summaries Series, Legalines Series, etc.) are keyed to this specific casebook. Additional subheadings such as “Hornbooks & Treatises That Are Related to This Product” and “Other Casebooks on [Subject]” may be available for other casebooks. If not, don’t fret! There are plenty of other helpful study aids accessible via lawbooksforless.com’s Core 1L Courses and Upper Level Courses pages. Simply select the subject in which you are interested (e.g., Contracts) and then use the "Commercial Outlines," "Hornbooks & Treatises," "Overview References," and "Exam Practice Aids" tabs to identify relevant resources.

With so many titles to choose from, you might feel overwhelmed or wonder how to choose the best one for you (n.b., different people have different learning styles, so the study aid that works for your friend might not necessarily work for you). Fortunately, you can determine if the library has a reserve copy at Circulation by using LINK. If the library does not have the book you want, go to amazon.com and look it up. Odds are that you’ll be able to use the "Click to LOOK INSIDE!" feature to examine the book (or a prior edition) and decide if it is worth buying. Additionally, LexisNexis provides free access to Area of Law Outlines for 1L subjects and free previews of all titles in the Understanding Series.

Naturally, Westlaw provides similar resources via its free 1L Outline Shells and Exam Prep and Law Student Products catalogs. Additionally, Westlaw’s new West Study Aids Subscription service provides electronic access to 300+ West published titles.

Wow, that’s a lot of different study aids! Way too many for you to attempt to consult them all. Once you find one that works for you, forget about the rest of them. Other titles in the same series (e.g., BlackLetter Series, Blond’s, Emanuel, Examples & Explanations, First Year Outlines, Gilbert’s, Nutshells, etc.) are likely to be equally helpful for your other classes.

Finally, even if you find the perfect study aid for a particular subject, don’t forget the importance of outlining! Outlining forces you to review and shape your readings and notes into a straightforward, logical, and accessible framework, so you will benefit even if you are not able to use your outline during an exam. Consequently, you are likely to do better on exams than students who rely wholly on commercial outlines.

Great, but how do you outline? In short, use your syllabus and/or assigned casebook’s table of contents to build a framework and then fill it in with your notes, a summary of each case, its holding, and any other relevant authorities (e.g., U.C.C., statutes, restatements, etc.). When you’re done, you’ll have a comprehensive list of legal concepts, definitions, and rules of law that will serve as a guide to applying the relevant authorities on an exam.

Want more comprehensive, step-by-step instructions to outlining? Then check out LawNerds.com’s Create An Outline for Each Class page (although this page has not been updated since 2003, it is an excellent guide to the outlining process). If that doesn’t do it for you, see eHow.com’s less detailed (but still helpful) How to Write a Law School Outline and How to Make a Law School Outline pages. If those don’t inspire you, see what your classmates are doing, stick with the commercial outlines, or talk with your professor or another mentor. There is no one way to study (or answer a law school exam question) and as long as you realize that you’ll be ok!

-Chris O’Byrne