It’s no secret that you’re going to be taking notes in school – and the quality of those notes could determine your performance in your classes.
Taking notes can seem annoying to many students, but it’s also an important part of the learning process. Writing down important points can help clarify what you’re learning and enhance your ability to remember the information. That’s why teachers are telling students to take notes.
However, most teachers don’t spend any time telling you how to take notes. If it’s so important, it’s worth knowing how to do it well and how to do it effectively, right? Here are six tips that can help make you a master of the college-ruled notebook, whether you’re jotting down notes in a lecture or straight out of a textbook.
1. Don’t Write Everything Down
Pay attention to what you’re reading or listening to. Concentrate on getting down what is important while taking notes and leave the extraneous information out of it. We don’t talk enough about it, but listening is important. It’s one of the most important parts of taking notes and it gets overlooked because it doesn’t actually involve ink or paper. Listen! Then write down the most important things that stand out to you.
2. Keep It Brief
As you’re listening or reading, take very brief notes. Stick to bullet points or short sentences whenever possible. You can go back later and fill in details, but making sure you don’t fall behind or lose the flow is more important to start.
This will ensure you don’t miss anything. If you get too detailed, the lecture can blow past you and you’ll be in a bad spot because you have a ton of information about one topic, but missed everything else.
3. Be Accurate
Try to keep things as accurate as possible, but put them into your own words. It will help you process the information. If you’re quoting directly when taking notes, make sure you note that. You don’t want to come back later and think you came up the elegant quote that you’ve lifted straight from the textbook. College professors take plagiarism very seriously, so this is a good habit to get into now.
4. Make It Relevant
It’s not always easy to do, but when possible, trim the fat. Only take notes on the details that are important to what you need to know. Your notes should reflect the items that are of true value to you. You don’t want to come back to your notes and be reading through irrelevant details that have nothing to do with the project, paper, or test that you’ve got coming up.
5. Rework Your Notes
Soon after you’ve taken the notes, go back and reorganize them. Clean them up so that the notes are of the most use to you when you need them most. It’s another way to go back through your notes. If you can go through the material in different ways it should help you to learn it. Don’t just recopy the notes you took, reorganize them and look for new connections.
Also, don’t just scan them and highlight or underline. Some studies have shown that highlighting doesn’t help a whole lot as a method of learning the material you’re looking at. It’s basically the same as reading it without highlighting. Reorganizing can help and forces you to interact with the information in a meaningful way.
Some people find that it helps to have a system. There are specific systems of note taking (see: The Cornell Note Taking System, for instance), but you can use what works best for you. Many find it useful to do bulleted lists with indents to make information easy to scan.
6. Review Your Notes
You are taking notes to use them. Come back to them every now and then to help imprint them in your memory. We already know cramming isn’t the best way to study. If you can review your notes with some frequency (that’s called distributed practice), even if it’s just for a short while, it’s going to be much easier to retain the information you took notes on than if you just review them the day before a test.
So get to it (and maybe grab a few study tips to help you along the way). Once you’ve found a system that works for you and know what you’re supposed to be doing, taking notes isn’t that difficult. If you do it right, taking notes isn’t just an annoying thing to do – it can be a big help with whatever task you’ve got in front of you.