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Tips on note taking

Notes are an important tool to help you study and learn. They record important information and filter out the unnecessary parts. This can help you record a long lecture or meeting in just a page or so of notes. Good notes should be short and simple; phrases, quotes or bullet points are good ways to condense the information into a form that is easy to later check. Taking notes can help you to engage with and understand the topic, and then later they will help you remember other details.

Here are our top tips for note-making

In a lecture or meeting:

  • Short and sweet: It is common practice now for lectures or meetings to provide handouts of presentation slides, or to make presentations and other information available online afterwards. If this is the case for your institution, then focus your notes on the information that won't be available later. This includes the things that are said by the professor and the parts that they emphasise as most important - don't try to copy out a full presentation if you could just download it later.
  • Where to take notes: If you can, use a handout of the lecture/meeting presentation to write notes on. If one isn't given out at the time, try to print it out beforehand. If can't do either, try asking the lecturer to change this. Having the notes written next to the information provides context, and saves on the amount of paperwork you have stacked on your desk!
  • Consider technology: A computer or tablet device can be a good alternative for note-taking. The advantages here are that they can be stored and shared. Also consider using a mobile phone or other digital voice recorder (Dictaphone) to create a recording you can check later.
  • Help and share: Sometimes you can't help but miss a lecture or seminar. Don't let this hold you back. Ask friends who did attend if you can make a copy of their notes. You can also work together for other lectures to compare notes and share your understanding of what was discussed.

Making notes afterwards:

  • 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 helps reinforce the ideas and improves memory recall. Avoid using highlighters, or you will just end up colouring in pages without any context when you look back at them!
  • Understand the structure of your course: Whenever you are being taught, it will be broken down into different sections. Just like how a textbook will have different chapters. Make sure you know what the sections you need to learn are - and organise your note-taking so that you cover all the sections.
  • Use note cards: A4 pages can contain a lot of information that can't easily all be read and processed when they are full. Try using note cards that are one quarter of an A4 page, or less. These smaller cards will be quicker to process and encourage you to condense information down more. They can also be carried easier and used for revision quizzes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Take a break: You aren't a robot and can't take notes all day and night! Your brain works best in short bursts. Stepping away every half an hour or so to spend 5 minutes walking around and hydrating or eating will keep you in top shape, and you will be more productive overall. 

With these tips you will produce more effective notes faster. This means more time for learning and preparing, and a lot less stress.


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