This is one of those issues that can have strong opinions on both sides. On the one side, some say the outline is critical in organizing your thoughts and response and on the other, people consider it a waste of time since you can just take notes on the simulation sheet.
For comprehensive simulations I say the outline is critical and you cannot go on without it. For multis I’ve seen people go both ways and write fine cases so it’s a personal choice but I recommend using one. I found it helpful to stay organized and help with ranking and time management.
What is on a good outline?
A good outline will have the following elements:
- A purpose and role. So you never forget what your role in the simulation is, and I like to have a purpose to all quants on the outline so that you understand why you need this quant. It helps avoid starting a quant and later realizing you didn’t need it or went in the wrong direction.
- Who you are addressing and what kind of communication is it? You may have to do an audit memo to a partner on one hand and a report about a tax situation to the client on the other hand.
- A timeline should be used unless dates are not an issue in the simulation. Write down every date you are given and keep track of where you are in proximity on a timeline.
- A diagram or organisational chart to keep straight who owns what or works where. This is often an issue in taxation indicators and will help keep things straight.
- A list of the required for the case which ensures that you address everything that was asked of you. If it helps, indicate which are primary indicators and which are secondary. Most people recommend you write these out almost word for word so you don’t misunderstand what is being asked of you.
- Identify issues in the simulations. This is not the same as writing down case facts which should not be written down on your outline but referenced. Write down the issues you identify and then indicate on your outline which page they come from (could be many) and refer back to them once you are writing your response.
- You’ll want quant information easily available if there is a lot of it. Consider having a separate page full of quant information so you can easily refer back to it rather than searching (and possibly missing) the data in your question sheet.
- Finally, after all is said and done, rank the issues and allocate time to them. You are going to need to know which issues you’ll be dropping and which you’ll be tackling before you begin writing and it’s best done when you have the whole case in front of you on an outline.
How long should an outline take?
I’ve heard some people dedicate up to 1/3 of the time to outlining which is probably a good maximum. You don’t want to let it start impacting your actual case but it is where a lot of the hard work of composing your response goes on so don’t fly over it either. For a comp I don’t think its unreasonable to outline for upto 1.5 hours.
Also: Check out Kayla Switzer’s post on the topic over on her blog.
For the comments: To outline or not to outline, what do you think? How has it worked for you?