Tips On Taking Better Notes

The young woman is focused on reading through her textbook.

A new learning environment can be a challenge for even the most dedicated student, and that’s one of the most important reasons to take good notes. But what, exactly, are “good” notes, and how do you know if you’re taking them correctly? Here’s the low-down: Good notes allow you to retain the information you’ve learned through lectures and reading the source materials for class. They can look different for different people, and it all really depends on how you learn.

Be Prepared

Taking good notes begins before you ever step foot into the classroom. Make the time to study the pre-assigned reading. Yes, it’s a pain. Yes, you’d rather be hanging out with your friends or playing World of Warcraft or Stardew Valley online. But that’s not going to help you ace biochemistry. Studies show that students who read the source material before class understand and retain the material better than those who don’t. And it can’t be said enough: Bring everything you need to class. It’s hard to take good notes when you’re searching for a pen or a notebook.  Bring extra pens or pencils and bring your textbook, too. And grab a snack before class, too, to stave off a potentially rumbly tummy. You’ll concentrate better.

Stylin’ and Profilin’

Your note-taking style probably breaks down into one of six categories: 1) An Outline, which helps linear thinkers, but can be hard to digest upon multiple re-reads; 2) The Cornell Method, which serves well for highly organized learners by breaking down notes into cues, notes, and summary; 3) The Mind Map, which is a little more creative way of discovering how different subjects for a class relate to one another; 4) Holistic notes, which allows students who hate taking notes to maximize their active learning inside the classroom and minimize their review time afterward by drawing connections between subjects; 5) Writing on slides your professor has provided. Someone called this ‘note-taking for lazy people,’ but it’s effective and easy … folks, if it works, it works; and 6) Bullet-journaling is super-helpful for visual learners and people who like to doodle. It keeps them engaged with the material.

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Does Not Compute

The current best advice is that taking notes by hand still beats taking notes via a laptop or smart device, and here’s why: Just typing away during a lecture removes a student from actively learning. Instead, you’re just transcribing. As a result, the learning experience is very shallow. Actively taking notes by hand means that you’re still engaging with the work, and for most folks, it’s the best plan of attack.

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