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Taking Notes the Strategic Way


You’re likely to have stacks of notes by the time you graduate. But will they be useful learning tools or a hodge-podge of unreadable babble?

Every learning opportunity — whether it’s a lecture, video, or textbook reading assignment — can be enhanced by capturing key points through notes. And, most importantly, good notes can boost your grade.

Every person seems to have their own style. Some prefer notebooks of a certain size. Others have a lucky pen. Some scribble every word, while others turn to laptops. Regardless of your preference, there are certain techniques that can enhance your notes’ usability. Try these ideas:

1. Plan for notes, lots of notes.

Bring paper that’s conducive — not undersized sheets or an unwieldy notebook. If you love writing on certain paper with a certain pen, indulge yourself. Bring an extra pen, then another extra pen. If you prefer to type notes on a computer, find a spot where you can plug in to keep your battery charged. Turn off instant messaging, social network notifications or other applications that may distract you.

2. Archive notes for studying.

Jot the date, the professor’s name or the textbook’s title. Number written pages, in case they get shuffled around. Store the notes, whether they are paper or electronic, in a proper subject folder.

3. Commit to the learning opportunity.

Good note-taking requires focus. You never know when an important concept will be revealed. Work hard not to stray, no matter how long the lecture or chapter is. Take a brain break when your professors do – when they pause to gather their thoughts or shift topics.

4. Don’t jot every word.

You’re a student, not a court reporter. You don’t need to jot every word. Write or type key phrases, rather than a complete sentence. Look and listen for clues, such as when the professor or author uses words like “first, “most importantly,” or “next.” Listen for when the professor emphasizes a key point by changing cadence or speaking louder.

Remember, that certain technical or scientific information needs to be notated precisely.

5. Don’t be held up by the process.

Whether typing or writing, don’t worry about grammar or misspellings. Those can be fixed later. Stay focused on key points and overall themes.

6. Don’t let a professor’s tools impede you.

For example, don’t be a slave to a PowerPoint presentation. If you try to write down every word on every slide, you’ll miss other important information. Also, some professors enjoy telling a good story. That might be a better time to put down the pen or look up from the keyboard and listen for an important underlying message.

7. Review notes right away.

Reviewing notes is a must-do as soon as possible. You can fill in gaps and add interpretation. This extra step will be invaluable when it’s time to put those notes to use, such as when writing a paper or studying for a test.

For those who need more structure, consider Cornell University’s note-taking system. This system involves formatting your note sheet in a particular way and these steps:

  • Record
  • Questions
  • Recite
  • Reflect
  • Review

– By Online Learning Tips Staff