Note-Taking: 8 Tips For Doing It Right
Note-taking is one of the most important cross-disciplinary skills that you can master as a student, college or high school. Being able to take good notes leads to a better understanding of materials in a much shorter amount of time. But it’s also about more than writing down everything an instructor says verbatim. In fact, you could write every a, an, and the, and still fail a test if you’re not using your notes in the right way. To help you make your notes functional, we’ve put together eight tips for doing this activity the right way. Here goes!
1. Listen more than you write.
While there is a temptation to jot down everything an instructor says, the reality is that it’s impossible to do so. Human beings can talk at a rate of as much as 10,000 words per minute. If you could type 60 words per minute, you still wouldn’t get half of everything they’re saying, and handwriting is even worse! In other words, word-for-word copying is useless. That’s why you need to be listening more than writing. By listening, you’re more likely to understand and summarize in a way that can easily be transferred to your notebook.
2. Record everything.
If you are concerned about missing something, then bring a recorder to class. There really is no excuse for not doing so, especially since every smartphone comes equipped with a recorder on it. Just push “record” and go on about your business as if you were taking notes and the recorder wasn’t there. Then, if something challenges you, make a note to yourself and mark the time on the recording for when the professor/teacher dealt with that material. You can then come back to it and listen three, four, or five times if you have to. Whatever it takes to bring understanding, in other words.
3. Summarize, summarize, summarize.
From the moment your professor or teacher opens her mouth, you should train your brain to simplify and summarize so you can get something digestible onto your paper. By following steps one and two, this will flow more naturally.
4. Write faster.
“Easier said than done,” you might be thinking, but the reality is this: every student in class has the ability to write at an exponentially faster rate than what they do. What holds back many is the desire to transcribe every letter. Let that go and learn to write in shorthand. One of the best suggestions I can give for speeding up your writing time: use vowels only when necessary — short words, starts of words — and eliminate articles (a, an, the) as often as you can. By using mostly consonants — the letters that aren’t a, e, i, o, and u — you’ll maintain the basic structure of the word without losing its meaning. Try it sometime. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to keep up with someone’s lecture while producing something that can be easily deciphered.
5. Rewrite notes in legible form as soon as possible.
So you’ve tried the shorthand method, and it’s working for you? Then this next step should be easy. Get out some fresh paper and recopy your notes in a complete, legible form (consonants AND vowels this time). As you rewrite, your brain will continually work on the concepts, and since it will also be trying to make sense of the shorthand, it will come closer to clarifying challenging concepts than if you skipped this step altogether. By the end, you should have a neat, easy-to-read document that is a good representation of the class lecture.
6. Type up the rewritten version.
A big part of learning is repetition and memorization. By taking your handwritten form and turning it into something you can save on a computer, you’re able to go over the material one time with your eyeballs and a second time with your keyboard, bringing you closer and closer to learning the material. Another huge benefit of this method is that, once you have the notes typed up, you’ll be able to CTRL+F (or find specific words and/or letter sequences within the document). This makes it easier to skip across your notes with ease and hone in on the trouble spots as needed.
7. Question as you’re writing.
This item goes back to when you are handwriting your notes, but I suppose it could be relevant at any point in the note-taking process. By questioning what you hear as you’re taking notes, you’ll stand a much better chance of learning the concept and how to critically think. Questions don’t need immediate answers, so feel free to jot out your questions in the margins and come back to them throughout the process until you have a complete understanding.
8. Compare notes with a friend or acquaintance.
If there is a good friend or acquaintance whom you respect as a student, see if they’ll let you look at their notes. If they’re kind enough to do so, don’t just look based on what you might have missed. Be open to tricks and techniques they used to help them keep up with the flow of information. In other words, be willing to learn from the how part of note-taking as well as the what.
Taking good notes will become more important as you move up the educational ladder. While you can’t depend on them to save you for every class, becoming a master at the technique — and being able to derive comprehension out of the technique — will make you a more successful student. What are some note-taking tips that we didn’t get in to here? And what are some of our techniques that you plan to incorporate right away? Share your thoughts in the comments section below, and best of luck on the end of your school year!
[Image via iyogi]