Top tips for taking notes

Note taking is a skill that rarely gets taught; therefore many are left confused about the most effective way of making clear, coherent and useful notes.

The purpose of note taking is simple; to highlight, to summarise and to help you when revising for exams.

Trying to write down everything your teacher says not only leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing, but also means when preparing for an exam, you’ll have to dig through hundreds of pages just to find those few key pieces of information.

What to write down

Firstly, only write down things you don’t already know. Secondly, what is relevant? Only record what you think is going to be of use to you later, when preparing for a test or creating a project.

The kind of information you need to pay attention to and jot down are: dates of events; to allow you to create a chronology and understand the context, names of people; associating names with key ideas will help you remember, and theories and definitions; these are the main points of the class and will be useful to remember.

As well as all these things, write down anything you find new and interesting and don’t forget to jot down any questions you have as you go through the lesson. Doing this means you can look up the answers later and you will gain a better understanding of the lesson.

Tips and tricks

Skip lines or leave space when taking notes, this will allow you to fill in information later on. Paraphrasing is very important; it is a lot easier to learn from your own thoughts and ideas that your teachers’.

Many students like to doodle; but doodling is distracting, not only when you are doing it but also when you go back to study. So, fill up your page with ideas and definitions, not doodles and drawings. Another tip; underline or star important points. This will help you when you go back over your notes to understand what the key points of that lesson were.

Note taking techniques

Mind mapping. This is a useful technique and is good for keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Here’s the idea: in the centre of a blank sheet of paper, you write the main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced you draw a branch outward from the centre and write that topic along the branch.

Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the centre. And so on.

If a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches. If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type your notes up.

Get colourful. Try something visual; colour-code with different pens, pencils, and highlighters. It doesn’t just make your page look pretty, it is a device used to help you remember things. Use certain colours for the important points, a different colour for dates and a different colour for definitions.

Review

After class, make sure to read through your notes and check you understand what the class was all about. It won’t take long and by reading it through it will not only help you remember but if there’s something you don’t understand, it will give you an opportunity to ask your teacher.

The most important thing is to find a note-taking system that works for you. Once you figure out what system helps you best, stick with it.

Try something visual; colour-code with different pens, pencils, and highlighters. It doesn’t just make your page look pretty, it is a device used to help you remember things.

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