By Professor Herb Ramy
Director, Academic Support Program, Suffolk University Law School
You will be nervous when the examination proctor says “begin,” so the worst thing you can do is to start writing out your answer immediately. Instead, consider writing out your skeletal outline when the proctors says you may start. A skeletal outline is merely an organized list of principles and issues, created by you, which relates to a given area of the law. Think about the outline you have been creating all semester, but now reduce it down to a page or two – this is your skeletal outline. Writing out this list will give you a few moments to compose your thoughts before digging into the exam.
This outline then becomes an organized checklist of concepts addressed during the semester, and it is a simple but effective way of avoiding basic mistakes. For example, the skeletal outline should list concepts in a way that suggests how they are related to each other. Consulting this outline will help ensure that you address both the issues you identified immediately and related concepts that may not have been quite so apparent at first blush.
The skeletal outline also operates as reminder to look for all the concepts you covered during class. Let’s assume, for example, that you covered the Statute of Frauds over the course of a few class sessions in contracts, but you did not see this as an issue on your examination. A quick look at the skeletal outline will remind to go back and review the examination question with a specific eye towards the Statute of Frauds. I am not implying that you create issues that are not actually present in your examination question. It’s certainly possible that your professors will choose not to test you on concepts they spend a few days covering in class – just be sure that this is the case before moving on to the next question on your exam.