Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Law School: Do your own CAN or Outline

Even if you find the very best CAN (Condensed Annotated Notes, also known as an outline) in the world for a particular course, you will want to create your very own, from scratch; CAN before you hit the exam room. You may think that you can get away without this step (and there may be a few of you out there who can do this), but for most of us, this is a necessary step in the learning, synthesizing and memorizing process. By physically writing your own review notes, you will most likely be able to recall information more quickly and efficiently. This is especially true for closed-book exams. For open-book exams, writing your own CAN will allow you to be more familiar with the information, and you will be able to flip more quickly through your notes during the exam.

I always found writing a CAN from scratch after studying my class notes and other materials to be an invaluable exercise to help me see where I am. I started with a fresh piece of paper or computer screen, and simply wrote out as much of the course as I wasable to in as little space as possible. I included all relevant cases, statutes, and supplementary information as possible, all the while trying to make as many links in the information as possible. I tried to remember why a particular case or statute was important in the big picture, whether it had altered or developed the law, and what the potential problems or solutions might be as a result of the reasoning of the case or statute. I may have included some personal comments about where I thought this case or statute may come up in an exam question, or would write myself little notes that would help me to readily recall a piece of information come exam time. Whatever helped, I included it. I tried to keep it as concise as possible, while trying not to omit potentially important information. This is a tough balance to strike, and it may take you a few times to get it figured out. The important thing is to avoid relying upon other people’s work in hopes that it will get you by. The truth of the matter is that it usually will only just get you by, or slightly less. To succeed, there is no better alternative than putting in that effort and making it happen for yourself.

A Word from the Wise – Practical Experience from some colleages of mine:

Unless you have a very bad and disorganized professor and you have to teach yourself the course, other people’s CANs are not the best or most efficient way to learn a course because it is actually the creation of the CAN that helps you learn the material much more than simply studying someone else’s. That said, it is better to read a commercial CAN or someone else’s CAN than nothing at all.
— Robin Penker, University of Alberta

To prepare for law school exams I would go through my notes and create my own “CAN”. Once that was finished, I would compare that to the commercial CAN and look for discrepancies. The next step was to create a list of cases from the course with a one-line explanation of the ratio. When I started, I would spend less time organizing and more time trying to study by reading the notes repeatedly. As school progressed, I found it more effective to spend much more time organizing notes and continuously revising them as I studied.
— Jaime Johnson, University of Alberta

What is your favourite way to prepare for an exam? (I know some of you like to keep it a secret, but remember, sharing always results in rewards later on - I speak from experience).

If you want some CANs/Outlines to help you get started, go to http://www.canadalawstudent.ca/cans.html where you will find links to CANs from different law schools, and all of my CANs from law school. Happy downloading!

1 comment:

Jenn said...

The Queen's Outline page is found at:


Thanks so much, the resources were so helpful!