Does your teacher require you to write everything they write or say? (Really? Are they serious? who can write that fast?) Or do they give you a copy of their presentation slides and say, “Make some notes on these,” and inevitably you write nothing down because it is already on the slide, right?
I haven’t been able to attend many classes in which the instructor took time to instruct on the best way for notes to be taken during their class. (They usually just defaulted to the “copy this down” strategy) I know I’m going to forget half of what happens in the class (actually about 90%) so I have developed the best way for me to take some notes and I thought I’d share some of these methods here to hopefully provide the needed instruction that most educators skip.
From Herman Ebbinghuas in the 1800’s, comes the discovery that people usually forget 90% of what they learn in a class within a month; with most of that forgetting taking place right after class. (No wonder your teacher is always irritated with you, haha, just kidding.) Seriously though, I hope that sentence causes you to reflect a little. There are just certain things that must be done to ensure that your brain retains enough information for you to pass the class or be successful in your career or even in everyday life and taking notes is one of them. It is a simple habit that can make the difference between an “A” and a “C” grade.
Know what kind of learner you are. Often, I find that I am a visual learner. I like to read it or write it to figure it out. If someone is talking I need to write down what they are saying so that I can repeat it to myself over and over. That isn’t the only way I prefer to gather info, I sometimes need to close my eyes to understand what is being taught which isn’t a general trait of a visual learner but more of an auditory learner (I know what you are thinking, and no, I don’t fall asleep in class…. most of the time) Figure out what kind of learner you are. Here are some options, visual, auditory, kinesthetic, verbal, social, or logical. Knowing what learning style you prefer can influence your note taking. Play to your strengths as the old adage goes.
- Use pics, graphs or charts
- Fold your notes into a book or use colored paper
- Create mnemonic devices
- Tap out a rhythm with your feet while you write key points. (just don’t annoy the class by being noisy about it)
- Leave enough space around you so that no one’s breathing can interfere with your listening
Take a hint from bullet journaling. This is a great method and you should definitely check it out at bulletjournal.com. I’m going to suggest you use some of their organizing ideas just to make referring to your notes, when you are cramming for that final, a bit easier. Before the breakneck speed of the lecture begins, write the lecture topic at the top of the page you will be taking notes on. Also, write a page number on all of your pages so that you can create an index at the front of your notebook (which is
something that can make it look like you are taking notes when you really aren’t because if you don’t do something else you are going to fall asleep). That being said, be sure to save a page or two at the front of your notebook for said index. One last suggestion from bullet journaling. You know when your instructor says things like, “Now this will be on the test,” or they repeat themselves like a million times……decide on some sort of symbol that you can use to mark that topic in your notes, so during your cramming session you know where to focus your attention. I am a star kinda person. You might be an underliner or a circler or a dasher. Whoever you are, use it to your benefit. A simple star in the margin helps me to target the topic I want to remember for later.
Organize while you take notes; don’t just write a huge paragraph of words. Divide your space into at least 2 sections to separate main topics from supporting information. Then write in short, direct statements with smaller details being recorded in an outline method. Use arrows, draw pictures or just use bullet points to identify different pieces of information and how it all connects together.
Use your own shorthand. I know that you have a shorthand system for your messaging habits so why not employ them in this realm of your life. Back in the day, when I went to middle school, I had to take a class entitled “TLC”. The instructor actually taught us the real secretarial shorthand notation (Well, just a bit of it. I don’t think 7th graders have the attention span for the entire system). I couldn’t remember half of what was presented because it didn’t make sense for me but now I use my own shorthand all of the time which comes in handy for classes where the instructor has no concept of “you’re going too fast”. Your notes are for you to read, which will probably make it impossible for anyone else to read; which isn’t really a bad thing.
Take notes on reviews and related info. This links to Step 3, make sure you save a space in your notebook for when the teacher gives a review of the last class topic or gives related information. Usually, this type of emphasis means you need to remember it and if you give the review special attention in your notes you will have a better idea of what to study when the exam comes to town. The same rules apply, don’t just write a huge paragraph and definitely use shorthand to record stuff. Don’t worry about repetition either, writing it twice…..or even three times….will give the hint of its importance (not to mention it is good for logging it permanently into your brain. Have you read “Brain Rules by John Medina?). I like using the mind mapping method for reviews. Write the central topic in the middle and details around that and use lines to show how it all connects. I don’t usually use this method for the rest of my notes but you could try it and see if it works for you.
I hope these steps can get you started on better note-taking for your course. If you are interested in a more in-depth discussion on this topic, sign up for my note-taking email series.