Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Exam Success Tip #3: Close the Outline Gaps

Around this time of year, the library fills with 1Ls who are dreading their first law school exams. (Upper-class students are also not immune to this end-of-semester anxiety, even though they have a better idea of what to expect.) During the last week of classes, we're devoting the Goodson Blogson to library tips for exam success. Check back each day for a new tip.

Tip #3. Complete Your Outlines...with a Little Help

Still confused about consideration? Puzzled by the Rule Against Perpetuities? Fill in your course outline gaps by consulting some subject-specific study guides. The library purchases a number of book series which are designed to help law students understand the concepts in a particular area of law. Perennial favorites:
  • Examples and Explanations Series: This series of books, published by Aspen, are written by law professors and are great exam preparation aids. The books give a narrative overview of key concepts and rules followed by "examples" (hypothetical questions) and "explanations" (answers to the questions). In the online catalog, search the title keyword [your subject] and examples and explanations to retrieve the volumes on a particular topic and their locations in the library.

  • Hornbooks: These books are written especially for law students and review specific areas of law in a summary, narrative form. They are thorough, but not exhaustive. The primary producer of hornbooks, West, has now divided its hornbooks into two editions: Practitioner's and Student's. The practitioner's edition usually contains additional chapters which discuss practice-oriented issues not normally of interest to students. The library usually has both versions in the Reserves collection.

  • Mastering... Series: These slim volumes provide a quick overview of a specific area of law, with minimal footnotes. They are available on a variety of law school course topics and can be located in the catalog with a title keyword search for “mastering [subject]”; e.g. mastering contracts.

  • Nutshell Series: These books contain a comprehensive outline of a specific area of the law, usually written by a noted authority on the subject. They provide a big-picture look at the law and avoid in-depth analysis. They contain fewer footnotes and references than hornbooks, but generally give greater coverage of a subject than commercial study guides. The most current Nutshells are in the Reserves collection, organized by the author’s last name.

  • Understanding... Series: Published by LexisNexis on a variety of legal topics, this series can be found with a title keyword search of the catalog for “understanding [subject]”; e.g. understanding criminal law. The Understanding series contain an overview of an area of law, with footnotes to primary sources for further reading.
If you require more in-depth analysis of a particular issue, you might wish to consult a multi-volume treatise on the subject. The library's guide to First-Year Treatises ( provides author and title information for the top treatises in 1L subjects, as well as links to online versions in Lexis or Westlaw. Links to relevant CALI exercises are also provided.