Note taking, whether in school or in a job meeting, is a crucial skill. It not only forces you to think about what is being said, but it also serves as material you can review when you want to revisit key topics or details. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll discuss taking notes as it relates to school, but remember that these suggestions are equally applicable to any important conversation or business-related conference.
Teachers often stress the material they discuss during their lectures when they design quizzes and tests. Your lecture notes, therefore, become a vital resource when you study, and you should make sure they are both complete and accurate. Don’t be afraid to ask the teacher for clarification if there’s something you don’t understand.
Tips for Note Taking
These days, computers and tablets are replacing the standard spiral-bound notebook and pen in classes, but don’t be afraid to go low-tech — writing the words on the page is especially important for kinesthetic (hands-on) learners, and it can help all learners process the information more effectively. If you do take notes in electronic form, consider rewriting them after the class to get the kinesthetic reinforcement. Here are some basic ideas for what you should do:
- Keep your notes for each of your classes separate from those of your other classes. This way you don’t have to go hunting each time you need to review or study them. You can use colored tabs, different folders, or any other method you find helpful.
- Consider using loose leaf paper for taking notes. Unlike a spiral-bound notebook, it will allow you to remove, add, and shuffle pages as needed to organize content. A word processor will allow you to do the same.
- Use only the front sides of the paper. That way, when you’re studying for a test, you can set the pages side-by-side and more easily see the content flow. Consider printing out electronic notes to achieve this end.
- Make sure to date your notes, and number the pages within a given lecture. This will also help with content flow.
- Don’t write down every word the teacher says. For one thing, people talk faster than they can write — about five or six times faster. For another, the teacher may repeat information or simply review a section that is already in your textbook. Make sure, though, that you get all the main ideas and enough of the details so you can see complete thoughts later on.
- Use abbreviations to increase your writing speed. They don’t have to be standard abbreviations, but they should be something you’ll recognize and understand easily when you review your notes later.
- Don’t worry about spelling and grammar — your main point in taking notes is just to get the information down in written form.
- Focus on what your teacher says, and listen for “signal statements.” These are indications that what the teacher is about to say is important enough that you should write it down. Examples include: “The most important point is…” and “Remember that…”
- Translate a teacher’s words into your own as you write them down. This will increase your comprehension of the notes when you study, as well as your ability to remember the information.
- Copy down anything the teacher writes on the board. Generally this will be information that is not covered in the textbook and will be things they expect you to know.
- Pay particular attention to what the teacher says at the end of the class. Sometimes they will summarize the lecture, and sometimes they will try to cram in everything they wanted to cover but ran out of time to do.
Tips for Reviewing and Rewriting Notes
It’s all well and good that you take notes during class, but they are of no use to you if you never go back to them or question the content. To ensure that your notes are both complete and accurate, you should review and rewrite them on the same day you took them down. That way the information will still be fresh in your mind. As you go, correct any errors you find, fill in gaps, add any additional information you remember, and mark any questions you have. Rewriting the notes also takes advantage of kinesthetic reinforcement — by writing the information a second time, you tell your brain that this is important to know, and it will store it for later recall. Here are a few suggestions:
- Read through your notes a couple of times so you get the “big picture” of what the teacher discussed during class.
- Rewrite your notes so they are more legible (it’s hard to write legibly when you’re scribbling very fast). Change abbreviations and symbols into full words. Place the finished notes in your designated class notebook.
- Highlight the key words and concepts. You can even color-code them so you can see relationships between them.
- Rewrite the notes in an outline form. This will allow you to see the connections and relationships between the different topics and highlight key terms in each. This is especially important if you are primarily an auditory learner, as it supports that form of learning. Even if you’re not, though, receiving information from more than one input source makes your brain more likely to retain the information for later recall.
- Question the information in your notes. Does it make sense? If not, write a note in the margin to ask the teacher or another classmate for clarification.
- Check that the information in your notes corresponds with the information in your textbook — teachers often draw their lectures from the text. If it doesn’t, write a note to ask about the discrepancy.
- Be proactive. Read up on source material for the topic discussed in class. This will give you a broader base of information from which to draw conclusions, and it will help “solidify” concepts in your mind when you need to study for a test.
It’s always a good idea, too, to review your notes just before the next class. That way you’re “primed” for where the teacher is heading with the topic. Also, this third pass over the material solidifies in your brain that the content is definitely important, and the brain will flag it for long-term storage and recall.