Developing your personal note taking style
There Are Two Functions Of Note Taking
- FIRST: The first is to help you concentrate on the information presented so that you will cognitively encode the material into your working memory. Students who sit passively in class fail to do the mental work it takes to encode the information.
- SECOND: The second function is to store the information covered in class for later review. You cannot fully understand and store all the necessary information by simply listening to the professor’s lecture. To fully learn course material, you need notes to later review. Numerous studies show that students who effectively take notes and actively review them outperform their fellow students.
How To Structure Your Note Taking
There are a variety of note taking techniques and different strategies work for different people. You have to decide on which technique works best for you. You might even use different strategies for different classes.
- A Few Basic Rules For All Note Taking Strategies
- Leave plenty of blank space on each page as your take notes. You will use this space during and after class to add information, ask questions, and make connections. Some students find it helpful to draw a line dividing the page into two sections. In one section you will write notes following the professor’s lecture. In the second section you will record your own summary statements, questions, or connections to other materials. These might occur to you as you take notes, but you will most likely develop these thoughts after class.
- Do not become overly reliant on technology. Instructor provided slides are helpful as an organizing tool, but are not a replacement for attending class or actively organizing the lecture information. Tape recording a lecture might be useful, but is not a substitute for active attendance in class. Only tape record lectures if you feel that there might be something you miss that makes it worth your time to listen to the lecture again. If you can fill in gaps by talking to classmates or your professors, then tape recording is probably not helpful.
- Use loose leaf paper or a spiral binder from which you can remove the pages and place them into a three-ring binder. This will allow you to rewrite notes or add material in sequence.
- Date and number each page.
- Write on only one side of the page.
- Using The Instructors Power Point Slides
Power Point slides provided by the instructor can be a valuable tool for understanding each lecture. They can also be a detriment if used improperly.
- What to do with instructor’s slides
Use the slides to prepare for the lecture and to provide the structure for understanding the lecture. You can print the slides and take notes on the page. If you are using your computer, there is a notes field under each slide in Power Point in which you can type notes from class. This way your notes will always be attached to the proper slide.
- What not to do with instructor’s slides
Do not rely solely on the Power Point slides as notes from the lecture. There will be much more information presented in the lecture than can be contained on a slides. If done properly, the slides will just provide you the framework, you have to listen for the details.
- What to do with instructor’s slides
- Choosing Your Note Taking Style
No one way of formatting your notes works for everyone. You can experiment to decide what works for you, keeping in mind the two functions of note taking. You will probably discover that you will use different styles for different classes. Listed below are note taking styles with links to more detailed information.
- Cornell Note Taking Method structures the note taking page with one section for notes and a second section for recording questions, clarifications, and reflection.
- Concept mapping works well for students who are visual learners and for topics in which connections between multiple concepts are important. It is also useful for studying for exams.
- Outlining can work if you have a solid idea about the structure of the lecture ahead of time. A detailed outline might be unrealistic and counterproductive if you are seeing all the information for the first time. This example uses a structure similar to the Cornell Method with the additional pace left clear for notes and clarifications.
- Free form notes can be useful when it is difficult to organize the material as you jot down your notes. This might be because the instructor’s lecture is not structured or because you need to get down a lot of material. This example also uses a structure similar to the Cornell Method with the additional space left clear for notes and clarifications.
- Using your laptop. Taking notes on your laptop can be effective if you can avoid the distractions from having your computer accessible during class. One benefit is that you can easily add more space to your note page when you want to jot down questions or clarifications. One disadvantage is that you might not find it as easy to pull out your laptop for quick review during the day.
- What Do I Write? Taking notes can provide a unique challenge to students. You want to record as much information as possible while simultaneously trying to think about the main ideas. It is easy to feel that you cannot accomplish both of the functions of note taking. Developing an effective note taking style will take work on your part to access the proper balance between encoding the information during the lecture and recording enough material to be of later use. Use the following guidelines to help develop your own style.
- Focus on the main ideas and understanding key concepts. At the very least, you should record the main ideas of the material. If you have planned ahead, you will have anticipated these and have them ready to place as headings in your notes. When a professor is working through a problem on the board pay attention to the logic used to solve the problem. You will be able to find the details of the problem later.
- Note material to which the instructor draws attention or gives clues that he or she feels is important. Look for clues that highlight material the instructor feels is important. Attending class regularly gives you the opportunity to actively engage the course material within the structure of the discipline as defined by the instructor. This allows you to interpret the instructor’s lecture for keys to significant material that he or she will focus the exams on.
- Concentrate on writing down information that is not easily accessible elsewhere. Do not try to write down everything the professor says. Your head will explode! If the professor mentions details that can be easily looked up in the textbook or other sources, do not write them; simply write a note so that you remember to look them up later. For example, when learning about the formation of NATO in history class, you do not need to write down every member of NATO, you can look them up later. This frees your mind to think about the significance of NATO within the context of the course.
- Develop techniques for abbreviating and paraphrasing. You can use standard abbreviations or develop your own set individualized to each class. Be careful, however, to use abbreviations that you will later understand. Do not write unnecessary words. Do not write “There are two types of …” Write “2 types ….” Use symbols, i.e., up or down arrows for increase or decrease.
- Write your notes in your own words as much as possible. This is part of the encoding process. Trying to hold the professor’s words in your short-term memory is much more difficult than holding the ideas. You do not want to remember the words; you want to remember the information.
- Milton J. Dean, Working Memory and Academic Learning: Assessment and Intervention (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008).
- Rona F. Flippo and David C. Caverly, eds., Handbook of College Reading and Study Strategy Research (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 2000).
- Paul Hettich, Learning Skills for College and Career (Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company, 1998).
- Mark A. McDaniel and Aimee A. Callender, “Cognition, Memory, and Education,” In H.L. Roediger (Ed.), Learning and Memory: A Comprehensive Reference. (Oxford, UK: Elsevier, 2008).
- Scott W. Vanderstoep and Paul R. Pintrich, Learning to Learn: The Skill and Will of College Success (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003).
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