Recently, I was invited to conduct a workshop at a tutoring center about how to effectively take notes for school. I thought I would share some of the things we discussed!
This is the main handout I gave to the students. Each student received a colored copy of this to understand the importance of colors and style of layout for note-taking.
Note-taking is an essential skill that has to be mastered by students in order to excel. Apart from helping in retaining information and thereby making it easier to revise for tests, it is a valuable skill that is even useful during adulthood. It can be used at work during meetings, or at talks of interest. It's a skill that never loses its value.
How many times have you gone for an exam after studying from the textbook or slides and gotten out of the exam wondering where some of the questions even came from? Those questions are most likely from something your teacher had mentioned in class and should be in your notes!
Taking notes isn't just an activity a person does during class and completely ignores during any other time of day. It's highly important to get into the habit of working on it before and after class as well, if you'd like to excel in your studies!
Before class, skim through next lessons texts. If you develop a slight understanding of what the teacher will discuss in the following class, it will definitely help in your note-taking, rather than going into class with absolutely no idea of what to expect. After class, go through your notes as soon as you can. While the points of class are still fresh in your mind, attempt to fill out any missing parts and organize your notes to make it clear and easy to understand.
As for during class, there are many things to remember:
*If you're in a physical classroom (rather than online), make sure to sit in the front row! Being right in front of the teacher helps in keeping yourself from getting distracted during class, and boosts your concentration level. From what I know, students that sit in the back generally tend to chitchat more with friends during class, and it can get distracting for students trying to stay focused!
*Use legible handwriting. 2 months down the line when you're trying to study and can't figure out what in the world you wrote in your notebook...it will be frustrating. Don't write too big or too small, and keep the spacing consistent. As a rule of thumb, between each word there should be enough space to fit the letter "o". Also, find pens that work great for you. I find ball point pens to work the best and gel pens to make my writing messy.
*Understand the lecture as you write. Don't keep writing without understanding as the notes won't make sense later on.
*Use symbols and abbreviations. Writing at the same speed as your teacher is talking in is not an easy task. With the help of symbols and abbreviations, you can speed up the task. Here's an example of some:
Make up some of your own if they help you in class! Just make a key somewhere in your notebook so that you don't forget in the future. Also, looking up what is coming up in the following class beforehand helps a lot as you can decide if you want to abbreviate any long words that will come up constantly. For example, if you're in History class and are learning about the French Revolution, it will take up too much time to keep writing "French Revolution" over and over again. Write down "FR = French Revolution" on the top of the page so you know what it refers to in your notes.
*Figure out a method that works for you. Not every method will work for everyone. I will show you some examples of methods in this post!
*Have revision sessions with your friends. Discussing concepts helps to engrave it in your mind for longer, and you will develop a better understanding of theories if you have someone to talk to about it.
*Use COLORS! Make diagrams! It should be fun to look at.
*Don't write down everything word for word that the teacher is saying. Condense it and grasp the bigger concepts. Add examples as well for better understanding. Write it in your own words, not your teacher's. Simplify.
*Don't write everything on the PowerPoint slides. You will be given access to these most likely, so it wastes time to write the same thing in class. If you're not given access, ask your teacher for them.
*Don't get distracted while in class. Losing concentration due to checking your Facebook or talking to friends while in class can make you lose out some concepts in class.
*Don't be shy to ask the teacher questions! The teacher is there for a reason and would love to answer your questions. It makes them happy when the students get involved!*
*Don't cramp too much information on one sheet of paper. This makes it difficult to revise later on. As you can see in the example of the handout I passed out, there are some white spaces on the paper. It makes the page easier to read, and one can also write notes on it during revision time if anything extra is needed.
Print PowerPoint Slides: For those classes that have PowerPoint presentations in every session, an option is to print out multiple slides (4-6) on one page and write notes around that. This makes it easier during revision as you just have one reference point rather than going back and forth between your notes and the slides. Also, you'll have to write less during class. However, a lot of printing is involved, and not many people are up for that. Also there isn't as much writing space as a typical notebook. Here's an image of how to do it:
Cornell Note-Taking System: This is possibly the most organized method, and is the best way to test yourself while reviewing as well. Here is the handout that was given in the workshop:
In this system, 2 lines are drawn out on each page, one on the bottom for the summary, on one on the left side, which is known as the Cue Column. The largest section is the column on the right side, where the class notes go. Bullet points are recommended. The Cue Column is to be filled out after class. Here, apart from key points, you can also form questions. It's like the TV show "Jeopardy", where the answers are in front of you and you come up with the questions. This is great for revising, as you can cover the Note-taking Column and ask yourself the questions you wrote. Writing the summary down on the bottom ensures you understand the concepts and it's great for referring back to the pages when you are revising for tests. This is an extremely effective method!
Rewriting notes after class: Ok, we're down to the method that I used while in university. Everyday, I'd go home and write my class notes all over again, using colors, drawing diagrams and using post-its. That was my idea of fun :) Apart from making the notes visually pleasing, it helped me revise all of the concepts and I understood class material a lot better this way. When the notes were colorful and neat, it made me WANT to open my book and study! It was definitely a method that worked for me, but all of my friends thought I was crazy :)
One thing is for sure, you need to have time on your hands to work on your notes. In university, my only responsibility was to get good grades, as I lived with my parents. Rewriting notes not only helped me to digest the material better, but it allowed me to be a little creative as well, and I enjoyed that.
I'm going to post some of my notes here. I did it in different steps. After I got married, I continued being a student in online classes. As time went on, I had less and less time on my hands. So my notes posted below are in 3 stages:
(1) University days: Most free-time. Used colored pens, did drawings, printed pictures.
(2) After getting married: more responsibilities. Still managed to rewrite notes, but only used highlighters and post-its.
(3) After having a baby: No free time! Didn't rewrite notes, just highlighted after class and used post-its for vocabulary.
The bare minimum that should be done after class is displayed in the last picture, highlighting. Normally I wouldn't highlight so much for classes like Science or Math, but if there is Literature involved, I tend to highlight the entire verses for quick reference.
Finally, the last thing I discussed in the workshop was how to take Math notes. This can be quite tricky as it is not like the other subjects, but I found a video online that I feel will be very helpful to Math students:
What YOU need to do now is figure out what method works best for you! With the correct mindset, you can make writing class notes effective and fun at the same time!
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