By: Sam Li
Hi, Marauders! In today’s blog post, we’re “taking note” of various note-taking strategies (pun intended!). In university, your learning becomes very self-directed, so your ability to take effective notes during lectures is essential.
In high school, I filled out lesson handouts that were very teacher-directed. In university, I had to develop my own note-taking strategy from the ground up. It took me a while to navigate, but eventually, I understood the benefits, mediums and strategies for effective note-taking.
Remember to register for the webinar happening tomorrow, July 21, at 5:00 p.m. (EDT), for more helpful tips and strategies. Register on OSCARplus.
Three reasons to take notes
- Stay focused: Following along in class as you take notes helps you stay alert and learn the content.
- Create a lesson “record”: Taking notes every class helps you create a record of what you’ve learned so far, allowing you to go back and immerse yourself in what you learned on a particular day.
- Improve memory and retention: Multiple studies suggest that note-taking benefits your learning, and it can make you more successful! We’ll delve into the “why” later.
Characteristics of effective notes
Research shows that the act of taking notes isn’t the only contributor to success — another factor is using effective note-taking strategies that have “SASS”! That is, strategies that follow these principles: short-form, accurate, selective and summarize.
University learning, in both lectures and readings, is more fast-paced than high school learning. To keep up, it’s helpful to leave out unnecessary articles (“the,” “a,” “an,” etc.) and conjunctions (“and,” “but,” etc.) from your notes.
Try using acronyms, word truncations and symbols to shorten the information. Use them at your discretion — your short-form habits should be easy to remember!
- DNE: “Does not exist”
- FYI: “For your information”
Word truncation examples
When you truncate a word, you shorten it by leaving out vowels or other letters. Remember, you need to be able to understand the truncated word.
- Incr: “Increase”
- Ex: “Example”
- →: “Leads to”
- Δ: “Changes”
Make your notes as complete and accurate as possible to ensure they represent the content you’re learning. This means reading the material thoroughly and being attentive. Specifically, in lectures, highlight key examples and stay for the full length of the lecture to make sure you’re capturing all the important information.
Paraphrase the main ideas instead of copying the content word for word. Being selective helps you think actively about the content, and it promotes a deeper understanding of the lesson.
Rephrase or paraphrase concepts. This means turning off your note-taking “autopilot” mode and understanding why you’re recording that information. Explaining the same concept in your own words can also improve your understanding and memory of the lesson later.
Try connecting the information to previous lessons. Or, even better, connect it to your own experiences. This can help you create connections with the lesson material, making you think about the content in a way that’s easier for you to recall during a test or exam. You’re creating “mental shortcuts” for yourself when it comes time to recite the information on a test or exam.
Choose your player: Popular note-taking methods
No singular medium for note-taking is right! One medium might be better for one class because of the amount of content or the pace. But that note-taking method might not work for all your classes.
Studies find that pen and paper notes are related to enhanced memory, possibly due to the mechanical nature of recording information — the motion of writing notes provides additional memory support later on. Typing notes on a laptop may be faster, but it might cause you to write verbatim notes over summarizing ideas.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should discount laptop notes or other note-taking methods. Find whatever medium is best for you, and summarize ideas in your own words instead of recording exactly what the instructor or text explains. I know, this might take some experimenting.
Some popular ways of taking notes in university include:
- Typing notes on a laptop
- Writing on an iPad or tablet with a stylus
- Recording voice memo notes
- Writing with pen and paper
Organizing your notes
There are multiple organization methods for note-taking. Let’s explore some!
The most common way of taking notes is using point-form. In this method, you record notes as you’re introduced to the content — as the instructor delivers the lesson or you read your text, for example. Each point serves as one main concept, with subpoints containing supporting ideas.
This method was developed in the 1950s at Cornell University. Today, it’s promoted by universities across the globe! The Cornell method requires you to divide physical or electronic pages into the following sections.
- Chapter or lesson title (top of the page)
- Main notes using point-form (right column of the page body): Take notes here as you’re learning.
- Questions, keywords and comments related to the material (left column of the page body): While writing, use this section to add questions, comments or keywords related to specific ideas.
- Summary (bottom of the page): Use your own words to create deeper mental connections with the material.
|1. Chapter or lesson title|
|3. Questions, keywords, comments related to the material||2. Main notes using point-form|
This method is great for topics that explore various perspectives on a central idea. This requires you to note the main idea in the middle of the page, with key topics and themes branching outwards from the centre.
Subtopics or explanations branch outwards from their respective themes. You can also choose to connect themes to one another other through lines and arrows, with small explanations below those arrows.
This creates a network of information, which allows you to understand the connections between topics and subtopics.
I hope that this blog post has made you more comfortable with note-taking. Despite the learning curve, this skill’s benefits are overwhelmingly positive — note-taking reinforces your learning, and it’ll pay off in your years at Mac!
About the Academic Skills Prep Series
Throughout the second half of July, join us for live webinars as we share what it takes to be a university learner and how to advance your skills in time management, note-taking, reading, writing and much more!
Enter for a chance to win
This summer, make sure to follow @MacSSC on Instagram for all of our Academic Skills Prep Series contests! We also have one grand prize to finish the series off right! The grand prize is a $250 gift card to Best Buy, with a second and third prize of $100 and $50.
How to enter: Write a 250–300-word response that refers to at least three webinars, sharing what you found interesting and new in the Academic Skills Prep Series and how it may help you prepare you for your first year of university. Email your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org by 11:59 p.m., August 6, 2021. This contest is only open to incoming first-year students.