Taking notes in class is an important part of studying, yet all-too-often students are left without any real guidance on how to do it effectively. Notes are important for helping you to remember facts, theories, and ideas, while good notes can make a real difference when it comes to time to revise. With summer exams still a long way off, you may not be giving them too much thought as you keep pace with your day-to-day studies and classes. However, what you do now can have a real bearing on how tough you find your exams later. Learning how to take effective notes will certainly be of use to anyone who is planning on going on to university, while it can also be useful for work or any other training too. Like learning any new skills, learning how to take effective notes takes time and practice, but to help you out, here’s some advice on writing notes…
- You Don’t Need To Write Everything
When you first start taking notes in class it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to write everything down. This is not only tiring, but also a bit of a waste of time. Firstly, you don’t need to note down things that you already know. If you know the Battle of Hastings was in 1066, then there is no need to add that fact to your notes. Trying to write down everything that your teacher says will also make it harder for you to think and actually process the information that you are being told. Plus, unless you are able to write at the speed that your teacher talks there will be gaps anyway, so it is much better to take note of the important points.
- So What Should You Note Down?
Knowing what to write down is a skill that comes with practice, and will depend on what course you are studying and what you already know. However, as a general rule it is worth noting down key facts (such as dates in history), names, theories, questions, different opinions or debates around the topic, and any definitions, terms or jargon that you may struggle to remember later. This may seem like a lot, but you can make this easier by using a few note-taking short-cuts, but first…
- Use A Pen & Paper
It may be tempting to take notes on your tablet, phone or laptop – and many university students do this exact thing. However, you are genuinely better off using an old-fashioned pen and paper to make your notes. The physical act of writing notes helps to cement the information in your mind (it is all to do with using different neural pathways in the brain to listen, process the information, and also write – the more you use the better!). Plus, the other bonus of writing notes on paper is that you can…
- Find Your Own Style
There are some generally accepted note-taking conventions and short-cuts, such as using three dots in a triangle to mean ‘therefore.’ Use arrows to link ideas, small drawings to help remember facts, or whatever else works for you. So long as you understand what you have put down, your notes have done their job. Your notes don’t need to be like a book with full sentences and punctuation – just get the ideas down.
Some teachers like to give hand-outs to a class – this certainly makes the whole note-taking thing easier, especially if they are the sort of teacher who then likes to pretty much read the hand-out to the class! However, don’t just rest on your laurels thinking your notes have been done for you. Instead add extra notes and ideas to the hand-out – there will almost certainly be extra information that you can jot down too.
- Revise Your Notes ASAP
The final stage in taking good notes comes after the class has finished. You might want to use a study period, or alternatively wait until you get home, but you should try to revisit your notes as soon as possible. What made sense in class today may not look as straightforward or obvious in a few months when you go back over your notes to revise for an exam. Keep your notes concise, but take a moment to fill in the gaps and make sure that the notes make sense. Some people rewrite their notes later, while others just brush them up to make sure they are complete and will make sense later.
Writing notes in class is something that gets easier with time, and practice makes perfect as you find a style that suits you – whether that means using different coloured pens, drawing diagrams, or simply jotting down bullet-points of key facts. Not only will taking notes help you to remember what is being taught to you, but you will thank yourself later when it comes time to revise! Effective notes-taking is a real skill that will help you to ace your studies.