Monday, July 11, 2016

How To Take Notes In Law School

As we creep up on fall and get closer and closer to orientation season, I have decided to write a series of posts on law school to help all the soon to be newbie law students out there. As a rising 3L, I finally feel like I have finally gotten this whole law school thing figured out and if I can help others figure it out quicker than I did, I'm happy to help. 

Yes, an actual outline of mine. For an open book exam. 

You would think that after 13 years of k-12 education and 4 years of college, note taking would be second nature. Unfortunately, law school follows a different set of rules and if you don't figure them out quick, it can be hard to get back on track.

Keep The End Game In Sight -
The whole purpose of your notes is to help you be prepared for your final exam. Sure, they can also help during class if you get cold called, but their ultimate purpose is for the exam. YOU DON'T GET GRADED ON COLD CALLS. If your notes are 90 percent about the cases, you are seeing the trees but can't see the whole forest. You need to find a balance.

Don't Save Your Outline Until The End -
Seriously, what kind of sense does it make to do all the reading all semester, take book notes and/or briefs (at least in the beginning of law school) take class notes and then redo it all into an outline at the end? The week before classes start, I take the syllabus and the table of contents of the casebook and make an empty outline. As I do the reading, I fill in what I think will be important. During class, I type in anything my professor said that was important. Still in outline form. Then at the end of the semester, I go and remove anything that I don't need for the exam. Back when I still did case briefs, (I do a couple lines per case now) I would end up deleting most of the case brief except for the Rule.

Color Code Your Notes -
I color code my reading too so this one was a no brainer for me. I use black for notes from the book. Blue for anything the professor said during class. Red for anything the professor said about the exam. And brown for anything I added to my class notes from an external source, such as a supplement. At times, I have had to add additional colors, for example, when we had a guest professor or the like. Not only does this make it more interesting to study from, it also helps when there is a conflict. Often, professors disagree with a point made, or the standard theory and having them clearly marked together on which is which is invaluable.

Add Visuals -
Lots of people are visual learners and can't really understand a subject until they can see it. Even though it's in outline form, you can still add images to your notes. A surprisingly large number of professors draw graphs or tables on the board. Put that in your notes. If you find an excellent ____ ---> ____ ---> ____ in a supplement, take a picture of it with your phone and add it in. If it helps you understand and retain the information, put it in your outline.

Evaluate Your Class -
The kinds of notes you need to do well on the final, depends on the class and the style of the exam. If you are taking a closed book, multiple choice exam, your outline needs to be extremely brief and barebones. You need to basically memorize it before you walk into your exam and since you won't be writing an essay, you don't need to be able to argue the material. A closed book exam is similar except you will want a bit more detail so you can adequately argue both sides and come to a conclusion. For open book exams you want much more detail but your organization needs to be extreme. There is no point in having the best outline in the world, if you can't find what you need when you need it. Headings, sub-headings and such, help a lot but the easiest way I've found is to print out your outline (So far, all open book exams have been hard copy only), put it in a binder and then tab the living daylights out of it. At the end of the semester, I go through it dozens of times before the exam. This makes sure that when I get a question on a specific topic, my brain immediately goes, Oh yeah, that's about 2/3rds in between blank and blank. All of these different styles will change how you take notes during the semester. If you have a closed book multiple choice exam, don't type up 2 pages of reading notes for every class. Similarly, if you have an open book, essay exam, don't leave from class with two sentences of notes.

Back Up Everything -
Seriously, I wish I could shout this though a bullhorn. Although most people know to back up papers or other assignments, people seem to forget about the lowly class notes/working outline. One of my closest friends lost her outlines halfway through the semester when they were deleted from her computer. My second week of school had me freaking out when my class notes crashed and only deleted a couple days worth of work. A couple days took me almost a week to redo.

Notes are even more important in law school but they can also end up making things easier for you come finals.  As everyone around you is running around frantically trying to finish their outlines, you can stay calm and actually study from your outline.

Related Posts -

How I Prepare for Each And Every Class

How to Start Getting Legal Experience Even in Your First Semester

How to Succeed in a Law School Class When the Professor is Terrible



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