Note Taking Skills
Everybody takes notes, or at least everybody claims to. But if you take a close look, many who are claiming to take notes on their laptops are actually surfing the Web, and paper notebooks are filled with doodles.Your notes are your road maps. After learning to listen, note taking is the most important skill to ensure your success when studying. Effective note taking is important because it supports your listening efforts, allows you to test your understanding of the material, helps you remember key ideas and creates your “ultimate study guide.”
There are various forms of taking notes, and which one you choose depends on both your personal style and the instructor’s approach to the material.
Each can be used in a notebook, index cards, or in a digital form on your laptop. No specific type is good for all students and all situations.
It is recommend that you develop your own style,
but you should also be ready to modify it to fit the needs of a specific class or instructor.
To be effective, these methods require you to listen actively and to think. Merely jotting down words the instructor is saying will be of little use to you.
The list method is usually not the best choice because it is focused exclusively on capturing as much of what the instructor says as possible, not on processing the information.
Most students who have not learned effective study skills use this method, because it’s easy to think that this is what note taking is all about.
The advantage of the outline method is that it allows you to prioritize the material.
Key ideas are written to the left of the page, subordinate ideas are then indented, and details of the subordinate ideas can be indented further. You can use the typical outlining numbering scheme (starting with roman numerals for key ideas, moving to capital letters on the first subordinate level, Arabic numbers for the next level, and lowercase letters following.)
At first you may have trouble identifying when the instructor moves from one idea to another. This takes practice and experience with each instructor, so don’t give up!
In the early stages you should use your syllabus to determine what key ideas the instructor plans to present.
Your assignments can also give you guidance in identifying the key ideas.
If you’re using a laptop computer for taking notes, a basic word processing application (like Microsoft Word or Works) is very effective.
Format your document by selecting the outline format from the format bullets menu. Use the increase or decrease indent buttons to navigate the level of importance you want to give each item. The software will take care of the numbering.
After class be sure to review your notes and then summarize the class in one or two short paragraphs using your own words.
This summary will significantly affect your recall and will help you prepare for the next class.
This is a very graphic method of note-taking that is good at capturing the relationships among ideas.
Concept maps harness your visual sense to understand complex material at a glance.
They also give you the flexibility to move from one idea to another and back easily (so they are helpful if your instructor moves freely through the material).
To develop a concept map, start by using your syllabus to rank ideas by level of detail.
Select an overriding idea from the instructor’s lecture and place it in a circle in the middle of the page. Then create branches off that circle to record the more detailed information, creating additional limbs as
you need them.
Arrange the branches with others that interrelate closely. When a new high-level idea is presented, create a new circle with its own branches.
Link together circles or concepts that are related. Use arrows and symbols to capture the relationship between the ideas.
For example, an arrow may be used to illustrate cause or effect, a double-pointed arrow to illustrate dependence, or a dotted arrow to illustrate impact
As with all note-taking methods, you should summarize the chart in one or two paragraphs of your own words after class.
The Cornell method was developed in the 1950s by Professor Walter Pauk at Cornell University.
It is recommended by most colleges because of its usefulness and flexibility. This method is simple to use for capturing notes, is helpful for defining priorities, and is a very helpful study tool. The Cornell method follows a very specific format that consists of four boxes: a header, two columns, and a footer.
The header is a small box across the top of the page.
In it you write identification information like the course name and the date of the class or course.
Underneath the header are two columns: a narrow one on the left and a wide one on the right.
The wide column is used to capture your notes using any of the methods outlined earlier. The left column is used to jot down main ideas, keywords, questions and clarifications.
Finally, use the box in the footer to write a summary of the class in your own words.
This will help you make sense of your notes in the future and is a valuable tool to aid with recall and studying.
Using Index Cards for the Cornell Method
Some students like to use index cards to take notes. They actually lend themselves quite well to the Cornell method.
Use the “back” or lined side of the card to write your notes in class. Use one card per key concept.
The “front” unlined side of the card replaces the left hand “cue” column. Use it after class to write keywords, comments, or questions.
When you study, the cards become flash cards with questions on one side and answers on the other.
Write a summary of the class on a separate card and place it on the top of the deck as an introduction to what was covered in the class.
Any review of your notes is helpful (reading them, copying them into your computer, or even recasting them using another note-taking method). Make your review of notes a thoughtful activity, when you review your notes, think about questions you still have and determine how you will get the answers. Examine how the material applies to the course; make connections with notes from other study sessions, with material in your text, and with concepts covered in class discussions.
Some instructors hand out or post their notes or their PowerPoint slides from their lectures. These handouts should never be considered a substitute for taking notes in class. They are a very useful complement and will help you confirm the accuracy of your notes, but they do not involve you in the process of learning as well as your own notes do.
Review your notes with highlighter in hand and mark keywords and ideas. This will help you write the summary of the class in your own words.
Review your notes as soon as possible (the same day is best). This is the secret to making your notes work! Use the recall column to call out the key ideas and organize facts. Fill in any gaps in your notes and clean up or redraw hastily drawn diagrams.
Write a summary of the main ideas of the class in your own words. This process is a great aid to recall. Be sure to include any conclusions from the lecture or discussion.
A word of caution about laptops for note taking: use them if you are very adept at keyboarding, but remember that not all note-taking methods work well on laptops because they do not easily allow you to draw diagrams and use special notations (scientific and math formulas, for example).
You have a beautiful set of notes in your spiral notebook or saved in your laptop. You have written the summary of the class in your own words. Now what?
Start by organizing your notes. Use a three-ring binder for each of your subjects. Print your notes if you used a computer. Group all notes from a course or unit together in a section; this includes class notes, reading notes, and instructor handouts. Next, spend some time linking the information across the various notes.
Adding To Notes
If you have had a quiz or test on the unit, add it to your binder, too, but be sure to write out the correct answer for any item you missed. Link those corrections to your notes, too.
Use this opportunity to write “notes on your notes.” Review your summary to see if it still is valid in light
of your notes on the reading and any handouts you may have added to your notes package.
If the course you took is a prerequisite for another course, or when the course is part of a standard progression of courses that build upon each other (this is very common in math and science courses), you should keep them as a reference and review for the follow-up course.
If the course may pertain to your future studies, keep your notes.
You may not realize it now but they may have future value when you study similar topics or even the same topics in more depth.
Clearly the best way to learn course material is to be at the class or lecture and to take your own notes.
But life happens. On occasion, you may have to miss a class or lecture. When this happens, here are some strategies you can use to make up for it:
If the instructor posts his or her lectures as a podcast, listen to the lecture online and take notes.
If the instructor uses PowerPoint slides, download them and review them carefully, jotting down your own notes and questions.
You may want to borrow notes from a classmate. If you do, don’t just copy them and insert them in your notebook.
When you borrow notes you should photocopy them and then review them carefully and mark your copy with your own notes and questions.
Check with the instructor to see if there is another section of the class you can attend.
Never ask the instructor “Did I miss anything important?”
After effective listening, good note taking is the most important skill for academic success.
Choose among effective note-taking styles for what works best for you and modify it to meet the needs of a specific class or instructor.
List notes are generally less effective and not prioritized.
Outlines work well for taking notes on a laptop when the instructor is well organized.
Concept map notes are good for showing the relationships among ideas. The Cornell method is effective for calling out key concepts and organizing notes for review.
Instructor handouts and PowerPoint presentations help with-but do not replace the need for-personal note taking.
If you miss a class, explore your options for replacing your missing notes.
Keep your notes organized in a way that makes it easy to study for tests and other uses in the future.
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