In education–as in all other things–we must never mistake effort for achievement. Far too many people are taught much yet learn little. In fact, many students find themselves buried under an avalanche of information without gleaning much in the way of knowledge.
One area the discrepancy between teaching and learning becomes apparent is in a student’s notes. Prolific note-takers may fill page after hopefully handwritten page with copious names, dates, and facts, only to lose the essential framework that ties all these discrete pieces of trivia together. One path to distilling excess information into real knowledge is the shrinking outline method.
STEP 1. A shrinking outline comes in handy when an original outline contains too much information to be manageable. So start with an unwieldy body of sequential notes.
STEP 2. Spend time studying these notes, looking for the main ideas that contain and connect the smaller points. Create a condensed outline that eliminates supporting lists and details but maintains the big ideas and concepts.
STEP 3. Use this condensed outline as a study guide. For each main idea, write down from memory the details you need to know but omitted. Repeat until you’ve shown mastery of the core material, referencing your original notes as often as necessary.
STEP 4. Once you’ve mastered your condensed outline, shrink it down to an even more refined and concise version. Focus on a handful of main ideas that serve as prompts for all the crucial information you are accountable for. This final outline should be your last study resource.
The shrinking outline method–from writing the original notes to reading and rereading them to writing and studying more–takes a lot of time and effort. So, however, does real learning. This process leverages elemental aspects of knowledge acquisition such as reading as a path to thinking, spaced repetition, and the almighty production effect. So, when you have to master a massive body of notes, embrace the incredible shrinking outline method.