Tips on note taking
An essential part of learning as a student is being able to prepare notes from lectures and reading that can be used later on as study tools for reinforcing what you learned as well as providing you the roadmap for revising and exam preparation. And, by taking notes, it can help you get through that less-than-thrilling lecture from the professor with the monotone voice or assist you in completing all your reading. In the end, even if you might have mentally checked out to some degree during the lecture or your mind wandered during the reading process, you have notes that you took that hopefully more than make up for your mental lapses.
What are notes anyway? They are essentially short phrases or brief sentences that are intended to filter out the unnecessary and help focus on the "need to know," important data, facts, and information that has value toward the subject you are studying. Much of note taking comes down to the type of student you are – there’s the overachiever who writes down every word of the lecture or rewrites their textbook and then there’s the other end of the spectrum where a few words are scribbled down with no context for what it all means. Then, of course, there are those students somewhere in-between. To help all these students, we have compiled a set of tips that are easy to do and improve your note-taking ability to get more out of the learning process and, hopefully, provide you with a great set of notes to make revising a breeze!
Here are our top tips for note-taking:
- Understand the dynamics of articles and books: There is a method to the academic madness that is scholarly journals and textbooks and maybe even to how lectures are organised. Typically, each is arranged with an introduction that sets the stage for the information and then is divided up into key topic areas that support the main idea. Sound familiar? It is pretty much how you have been told to organise an essay or a dissertation. There is typically a section for methodology, findings, discussion and conclusions in which each beginning and ending paragraph provides the key points that are perfect as note-taking material. The same can be said in lectures, which usually come with a set of lecture notes (Voila! In this case, some of the work may already be done for you!)
- Step away for a refresh: Don’t plan on completing all your notes in one sitting or you will miss out on vital information. Your brain is more attentive in short bursts than in one long drill session through an entire book or scholarly journal article. Stepping away after every half an hour or so provides a way to give the brain a moment to shift its focus and refresh so it can be present and fully aware when you return to your note-taking.
- Be selective: It is not necessary to rewrite the entire book or article into your notes. If you were overwhelmed the first time reading it, having to reread it again as part of your notes will not be beneficial. Remember that notes are brief ideas and phrases to ensure that your revising strategy focuses on hitting only the most critical information. Even if you feel compelled, stop yourself. Only pick out the main ideas.
- Look at the big picture: Along with what was previously said, the main ideas are what create the big picture – what was studied, what were the results, and what were the conclusions? Create bullet point notes.
- Read now, take notes later: If you are applying the speed reading tips from the following chapter, you know that you will not be taking notes while you read but will write down the ideas after you have finished. Or, if you are taking more time, you may want to make symbols in the margins like an arrow or star so that you can come back afterwards and make those your notes.
- Banish the highlighter: As with speed reading, the highlighter really must go. It does not help with note-taking because it is the driving force that compels you to take note of everything. Before you know it, the entire page or article is shocking shade of yellow or green – maybe even pink – and your notes and revising strategy are no better off for it.
- Return to "old school" handwriting: There is a lot to be said for handwriting and the ability of this physical action to resonate with the neurological action in your brain. For many students, the act of handwriting or printing helps reinforce the ideas and help with memory recall.
- Use note cards: Rather than regular size paper, which encourages you to fill it up, index cards, or note cards, are compact and idea for notes. That’s because there is only minimal room for maybe one or two ideas tops. Plus, you can shuffle them around or give them to someone to help with your revising.
- Consider technology: For those who may be further disabled in their note-taking due to their poor penmanship, a computer or tablet device can be a good alternative for note-taking. The advantages here are that they can be stored and shared.
- Employ information management software: Taking technology one step further, you can up your note-taking game with software that helps you organise your notes across a wide range of media if you have chosen to take some notes on index cards, others in word processing files, and still others handwritten. This is good if you exchange and share notes with other students to create a more comprehensive revising guide. This can help you organise and quickly locate key pieces of information much faster.
With your reading and note-taking strategies in place, it is time to return to your mental focus and what’s going on in that gray matter of yours by looking at mind mapping and memory tools that help you cram more into that ever-expanding knowledge library in your head.