How to Outline for the Bar Exam

If you're sitting for the bar exam, then chances are you have been through law school. If you have been through law school, then you are acquainted with the Cult of the Outline.

The Cult of the Outline was made most famous in the movie “The Paper Chase” where one of the characters was a law student obsessed with creating the perfect outline to prepare for his final exam. Although he created the most miraculous outline in the history of outlines, he was unable to pass the final exam.

The moral of the story is that outlines are merely tools.  If a tool is of use to you, then you use it; if a tool is of no use to you, then you ignore it.  If someone tries to tell you it is impossible to pass the bar without making your own outlines, they are wrong.  (I know someone who passed the bar exam simply by reading the Conviser Mini Review from cover to cover over and over again until he had memorized everything.)

I was always able to use outlines effectively to organize my thoughts.  I used outlines in law school and in preparation for the bar exam.  (See my MBE outlines, my Oregon bar exam outlines and my California bar exam outlines.)  But, for some people, outlines are at best useless and at worst create psychosis.

To me, the act of creating an outline is a way to filter out what is unnecessary and keep what is needed.

How I Created My Outlines

For the bar exam, I created my outlines as follows:  I skimmed the day's topic in the BarBri Conviser Mini Review prior to attending that day's bar review lecture.  At the lecture, I took notes on my computer or in the BarBri In Class Workbook on what seemed important.  Then, after lunch, I spent two hours typing up an outline.  Limit yourself to two hours as it will force you to quickly sift through what matters.  Also, do it right after the bar review lecture so the important points are clear in your mind.  Since you will be reviewing each topic over and over again during the course of your studies, you will be able to add necessary detail to the outline over the next few weeks.  Once the outline is complete, you will still have a few weeks to memorize it completely.

[Note:  I used this creation process when I took the Oregon bar.  When I took the California bar, most outlines were already done, so I only needed to make a few new outlines for different subjects (e.g., Community Property and Remedies) and edit those outlines with state specific material (e.g., Evidence and Civil Procedure).  As I have mentioned elsewhere, I did not take the full BarBri lecture course a second time.]

If you plan to use outlines, then you should create them yourself, to suit your learning style. Although I have provided you with free copies of my outlines for Oregon and California, I suggest that you refer to those as models for what your own outlines should look like, rather than simply try to memorize them.  Everyone's brain works a bit differently, so they way I organize material for memorization might confuse someone else, and vice versa.

["Bacon Flow Chart" by ChrisL_AK (click the picture for larger view)]


Amy Graves said...

I am planning to take the Oregon bar after being unsuccessful in Florida. I noticed you didn't take the Barbri course the second time. Was that for Oregon? Any advice for switching states? What did you use for substantive law for Oregon? Thank you!

Bar Advisor said...


Oregon was the first bar exam I took, and I did use BarBri. I bought the BarBri books when I took the California exam, but did not take the lecture course.

I have posted my Oregon outlines, if you want to see them. I assume they are generally still accurate, though they were created in 2006, so there could be some changes. Here is the link: Oregon bar outlines. For some reason, I didn't make a corporations/partnership outline then, but did make one for California, which I believe is essentially identical to the Oregon bar exam. If you want a copy of that, download the free PDF of the Business Associations outline from this page: Cal bar outlines.

As for switching states.... Lots of the topics will be the same. All the MBE topics and likely some of the essay topics. So, your memorization/learning time should be reduced. You can use that extra time to practice and review your practice answers. This should help increase your likelihood of passing. Also, determine what your weaknesses were when you took the Florida exam, and concentrate on those while preparing for Oregon.

Hope that helps.

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