Student Writes

We tend to think of note taking as simply the action of writing things down, but there are techniques that can make your notes much more effective, both while you’re taking them and later when you’re using them for review.

If, for example, you’re attending an in-class lecture, actually dating your notes is a good idea. The dating can help keep things in order, and if you need to ask the lecturer a question regarding the material, you can make it a little easier on the both of you by having the date of the lecture to give as a reference point. Another handy retrieval tool is titling each section of the notes, and making note of headings and subheadings as well. This will help you find material later on when reviewing, and can help you in keeping your notes ordered by subject. Leave some space between headings and notes so that you can fill in any missing information later on. This is one reason why it’s helpful to write only on one side of a page as you take notes, so that you can put additional information on the other side of the page, or even use it to answer questions you’ve made note of during the lecture. Enough separation between sections is also a good visual cue as to where each section begins and ends.

Using a uniform style of organization throughout your notes not only helps keep things neat, it also aids you in seeing how the details relate to main points. Also, make sure you note down enough examples and details to ensure the ideas you’re learning about are clear; if they aren’t, talk to your tutor or professor after the class/when you’re done your reading.

Rereading, recopying only if necessary, your lecture notes as soon as possible after the class, and neatening up the organization, is an excellent way to a) review the material which keeps it fresh, and b) make it easier to review the material later. The sooner you review your notes after a lecture, the more likely you are to realize any gaps in information that might be present. Review gives you a chance to fill in any of that missing, unclear, or incorrect information.

Most importantly, though, make sure you can read your own handwriting. If you can’t read what you wrote, what you wrote isn’t going to be terribly useful. You don’t need perfect penmanship during note taking, but make sure it’s clear enough that you can read it later on. Also, it’s handy to develop your own style of shorthand when note taking, so that you can mark things down quickly. It’s only useful if you remember what your shorthand means, though; I’ve had days where I’ve forgotten my own notation, but after many years of habit it becomes second nature.