Students spend a lot of time trying to do something very basic, take notes, especially when it comes to keeping notes and comments on what we find in your texts.
One solution I’ve found is this: Rather than writing in the margins (which sometimes aren’t large enough for good notes anyhow), use Post-It notes (or some variant thereof; the recycled paper version are excellent). You can keep great little notes and stick them into your text right at the spot you’re taking the notes about. This means that a) your books don’t need to be marked up (unless you like them that way), so you can sell or give them away later, and b) you don’t have to keep a separate notebook just for comments on your texts. The smaller, thinner Post-It’s are also excellent bookmarks, and the big plus there: They Don’t Fall Out.
“So,” you say to me, “you’ve told me what to write on, but what do I write with?”
The world was a drab place when all we had were blue ink pens! Now we’re showered with black, red, green, purple, and hosts of other colours that can make a student’s life whizbangingly simple. I know you take notes when you’re studying; you jot down things you read in your texts and study guides or that you saw in your course videos, and while you’re doing this you have Thoughts of Your Own.
So, when you’re writing notes that come directly from course materials in the colour ink of your choice, why not have a pen of a different colour handy so that you can write down Thoughts of Your Own right next to the material you’re having those thoughts about. This makes it very simple to separate notes from personal observations that could later turn into those fabulous things we call Essay Outlines.
Also, if you, like me, are a devotee of the highlighter pen, you already know the many benefits of their use. I’m a big fan of the yellow, because it’s the easiest colour to read through. However, if you have another colour, say orange or green or even that fabulous purple one, you could use it to highlight things like names, references to other books, chapter and verse numbers for religious texts, etc., just to separate them out from the other information you’re marking. I’ve found this tremendously useful in religious studies, English literature, and philosophy courses, and it would be excellent for marking out equations in a mathematics or physics.
“Ok,” you say, “you’ve told me what to write on and what to write with, but I’m not sure how to take the notes.”
Everyone’s got their own way to keep notes, but I’ve found the pointed and indented list method the easiest, for many reasons. A pointed list allows you to keep better visual cues for finding information later on. You can have a heading with key points underneath, for example, It’s much tidier and quicker than writing lengthy paragraphs, or clots of information with little or no separation between the items.
I’ve found that notetaking, even when my memory is good, still helps to cement the information more permanently.