First, why is note taking so important? Like some of us, have you ever just listened to the teacher in class, and thought, “This is so easy. I don’t need to write it down” or, “She/he always talks about this. I won’t forget. I don’t need to write it down” And then, after a while, you’re like…
Because after a while, you realize that you don’t remember anything. (Unless you’re one amongst the lucky few prodigies possessing incredible memory and retention powers.)
Why does this happen? When you passively sit in class, listening to the teacher, the lecture is stored within your sensory memory. The sensory memory has a very large capacity to store information, but cannot retain this information for a long period of time.
You have to actively transfer this information into your working memory, by taking notes in class so that you can later re-read this information, re-absorb and re-understand it. This is called using your working memory. When information is stored in your working memory, you’re brain relates this information to other information that you’re brain has previously stored; allowing you to make connections between old and new information, and thus remember and relate notes from (for example) Week 1 to Week 4.
So, now that we know why taking notes is so important, we move on to general strategies to help every student take good notes.
As a rule, practice writing you’re notes on half of the sheet of paper; and then leave the rest of the sheet blank. Then, either during the lecture or while reviewing the notes later – use this blank half sheet to write down questions you have about the lecture or thoughts and doubts about the material. You can also use this space to summarize the material in your own words so that you can learn it easily later on. You can also make connections with previous information or lectures in this space.
Improve your efficiency by inventing short forms that you will understand, so that you can take down notes faster, as well as ensure that you are not missing anything.
For example, instead of writing “increase”, perhaps just use this symbol: ↑. Also, if one particular name is being repeated several times in the lecture, such as Robert Brown – after writing Robert Brown down the first and second time, make an abbreviation such as RB. This will save you time and allow you to record all the information necessary instead of scrambling and missing important points. After a while, you will become such an efficient note taker, that you will have time to listen to the lecture and simultaneously write down the information in your own words.
Thus, by saving time during the actual writing, you can also begin to absorb the information that your teacher is relaying – rather than just focusing on listening to the teacher and hurriedly writing down every thing she says. Now, you can listen, understand and then write down the important points in your own words. Remember, notes written in your words are also easier to understand, absorb and retain. At this point, you are starting your learning process right there in class, and thus saving time by having to understand the teacher’s language, which is often more formal and technical.
Another great tip for taking notes: if your professor or teacher spends a long time explaining a concept, or making sure that everyone understands it – you can be assured that it is important, or will appear in the exam Make a little star or symbol next to those notes to remind yourself to study it thoroughly. Similarly, if you’re teacher says that something is important, then make the same little star or symbol. While reviewing you’re notes, ensure that you understand these concepts entirely and can recall them quickly.
Make the most of your time in class with efficient note-taking! Have fun learning!!