How Outlines Can Help You Retain Test Material

Retainment of test material versus memorization of the test material is a difference that should be noted by all students, whether they are first-graders or college-bound students. Outlines, moreover, can help you retain test material better, but not many students know how to make effective outlines. The following tips can help you do so:

1. Prepare your notebooks for each class beforehand, usually the night before.

For each notebook, leave the first five pages blank so that you can write down a table of contents later on. Number the pages of each notebook. Then, divide the first “note-taking” page into thirds by folding it lengthwise. Draw a line down the first fold (the first 1/3). The space to the left of that line will be for your questions and after-class notes, which you will write when you are at home studying your notes.

2. As you write your notes in class, make sure that you are writing legibly.

The format should be as follows:

  • The heading of each section of notes should be underlined and in caps.
  • The information below each heading should be separated by bullets.
  • The detailed information that follows each piece of information should be noted with letters.

For example:

  • THE VIETNAM WAR
    • Began in 1959 in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia
      1. North Vietnam vs. South Vietnam

As you can see, the outline actually allows you to see the information better. Compare this to a long paragraph. You have to pick out different bits and pieces of information that you think is important when you read a long paragraph. An outline, however, only includes relevant information, so that it is easy for you to study.

Ease of study can help you retain the information better. Less “articles” (such as “the,” “a,” etc.) can lead to better readability. If you have a photographic mind, you know how easy it is to retain this information better when it is presented in outline form rather than in paragraph form.

When you write outlines, you are also actively retaining the information. So, even if you take notes in long, chunky paragraphs, you should rewrite your notes in the form of an outline, as described above, once you get home. Add the questions and more after-class notes on the left-side margin of the page. This way, you can use the information twice, and you will be able to retain it better.