Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Spring Cleaning Series: How to Organize Your Notes for Finals

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Using computers has lessened the probability of your desk looking like the photo above, but maybe you feel like this is what is going on with your note situation or even with all of your mental notes.  Who can blame you?  Notes and case briefs as you read, notes you take during lectures, handouts, hand-me-downs from classmates, annotations in the text and supplements.  Chaos!  Here is a way to get your notes consolidated and in an order that can turn everything into your ultimate study product so you’re ready for finals.
Consolidate.  If your notes are truly all over the place, there is no way around this step.  Start by pulling out your syllabus.  If there are subjects created by the professor, use them for your outline headers – and it’s also a great way to determine the focus that your professor wanted you to examine.  Then, go through the assigned reading section by section. Use the textbook to determine the rest of your outline headings and subheadings as it is already broken up that way. Pull up your reading notes and the lecture notes and fill in the outline.  Shorten case briefs to a few sentences.  If you are allowed to use your textbook for the exam, also take this time to tab/highlight the main points.  Work until you are caught up to the current assignment.  For the next class, type your reading notes into this one document.  If you’re allowed to use computers in the class (as not all professors are caught up with the times), fill in the lecture notes here so you are consolidated by the end of the class – no extra work required!  If the professor doesn’t allow computers, spend 15-20 minutes after class to consolidate.  This action will help you solidify the lesson as well as keep the mess from returning.
Color Coding.  It’s well known that color coding can help with memory recall, but it can help you organize your notes and help in bringing the important information forward.  For instance, always highlight the rule in a case brief the same color.  If a professor emphasizes a footnote or concept, always highlight that in a certain color.
Bolding/Italics:  As with color coding, these tools can also help signify to your brain what is important.  Put case names in italics and bold key words like ones you know need to show up in the written portion of the exam.
Condense. Over the course of the semester, this one outline is going to become a giant. About a month before finals, you should be condensing your giant outline down to about a 5 to 10-pager.  This is the outline to memorize (and use if allowed to bring an outline to the exam).  Short sentences with the rule, examples, and exceptions.  This is where your color-coding, bolds, and italics will come in handy.  Keep your headings and copy/paste the key information into a new outline form.  If you have any issues while memorizing this smaller outline, you’ll be easily able to reference the longer version (using control find) and if this area remains difficult, just copy/paste the longer information into your new outline and reprint.  A printed version will keep you from other diversions on the computer.
Use technology.  If you’re not good at backing up your work, purchase software like Carbonite to automatically back up your work when connected to the internet.  Nothing is more devastating than losing an entire semester of notes.  If your work spans multiple devices, consider using applications like Evernote or Dropbox.

Here’s a sample of a consolidated and condensed outline. *Disclaimer, this outline is old and may be outdated. It’s always best to use your own notes to better understand the material, reflecting your textbooks and professors’ lectures and individual understanding.

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Until Next Time,
Jenny L. Maxey
Author of Barrister on a Budget:  Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank

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