Making Your Own Bar Exam Outlines: What To Do And What NOT To Do

A lot of students ask whether they should make their own outlines when studying for the bar exam, or whether they should just use the outlines that are already created for them with their commercial bar preparation course. This post discusses both the benefits and drawbacks of making your own outlines, and also discusses the correct ways and incorrect ways to make your own materials.

The Benefits and Drawbacks

  • The largest benefit of making your own bar exam outlines is that it is a great way to review and study material. Consider the process: you’re spending time reviewing material, thinking about what material you need to include and how to organize it for you, and retyping or rewriting material. This is actively engaging with your materials rather than passively reading them, so outlining is most beneficial for this reason. Many students do not finally understand a subject until they’ve taken it, organized it themselves, and put it in their own outline.
  • The largest drawback of outlining is that it can be time consuming. It’s easy to think “Why am I doing this when I have an outline book with an outline already made for me?” Why does it take a lot of time? You’re utilizing all of your resources – your outline books and your lecture notes – and turning them all into one document. If you find that making outlines is beneficial but you do not have time to do it for every subject, you should at least make them for the subjects you struggle with the most.

The Do’s and Dont’s

  • DO NOT just copy an existing outline verbatim and re-type your outline book. That’s not what outlining is about. You should be working with the material, which includes editing, organizing, and condensing the information in a way that is easy for you to understand and that is efficient for you to study from. Simply copying an outline will not help you.
  • Similarly, your outline should not be 30-50 pages like your outlines in your commercial bar review course. You should think of your outline as a way to attack a subject, i.e., “this is how, in 5 pages, I think of torts.” You may end up having a longer outline, but over the course of bar study, you will eventually edit and cut it down more and more until it is about 5 or so pages.
  • Focus on the rules only when you are outlining. Do not include examples, hypotheticals, or theory.
  • Organize a subject in a way that will best help you memorize it. For example, if you’re making an attack outline for torts, break it up until the different types of torts: intentional, negligence, strict liability, products liability, economic, and dignitary torts. You can even color-code sections in your outlines. Then, for each rule, list the elements and their definitions. Then, list their exceptions. This is the best format for a self-made bar exam outline.
  • Many times, your own made outlines will consist of charts and flowcharts. If you are a visual learner, making charts and flowcharts of the material is extremely helpful.

If you’re still considering whether you should make your own bar exam outlines or study materials – try it out in the first couple weeks of bar prep. If it’s not working for you, then scrap it. You can find a sample portion of a self-made bar exam outline, which corresponds with the above advice, on our RWU Law Supplemental Bar Review Dropbox.

No matter what you do, the idea is to actively engage with the material. If that’s making an outline or singing portions of real property to the beat of a tune in the shower, you should just actively engage with the material in a way that is beneficial and helps you remember it. Finally, don’t be afraid to mix it up. If one active learning strategy is not working, try another. You’re always adapting your study in a way that works for you, and outlining is just one option.

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