How do I memorize my law school outlines?
Seven tips to learning your law school outlines
Here, we tell you 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, which we discuss throughout this guide: First, you need to have good materials. (This is why you make your outlines early! Check out our in-depth guide to outlining). Next is to understand those materials. This happens through going to class, consulting supplements, or private tutoring. Next, you have to memorize your outlines. We discuss that in this section! Lastly, you have to apply what you know to a law school exam.
Here we focus on 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 (discussed more in the previous section of the guide)
We say this repeatedly because it is so important to make your own outlines! It is much easier to understand and memorize something you have organized yourself!
If you really don’t have time to make your own from scratch, here is what you should do:
- Find a student who took the same class with the same professor as you and see if you can use their outline. (Your school may have an outline bank, or you may be able to find an outline from a friend or online.)
- Do not use a commercial outline—you need to focus on what was covered in class.
- Personalize the outline as much as you can—make charts, color-code them, etc.
We think the best route is to make your own law school outlines, but if you don’t have time, then this is the backup method we suggest!
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
- Cover up outlines, write down whatever you know about a topic, look back at your outline, see what you are missing, then do this again until you know everything! Then move on to the next section!
We don’t recommend that you rewrite all your outlines very neatly—that tends to take a lot of time and be mindless! We also don’t recommend making flashcards out of all 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 five or 10 pages over and over again, until you know them. Instead of reading them, actively review them, as noted above. Only then should you move on to the next five or 10 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, 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 your study time.
Do not focus on memorizing case names or the facts of cases. Besides a few major cases, your professor will probably not expect you to have a detailed knowledge of the cases themselves. It is the principles the cases illustrate that is more important!
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!)