Note Taking

Note taking is the capture of information presented during class onto paper for later review. There are many ways to do note taking. Some methods are more effective and efficient than others.

note-taking

Effective Note Taking

The only effective note taking is that which boosts your grades. Period.

You don't get grades for taking pretty notes or taking lots of notes. You get better grades by answering questions better.

Many students get a false feeling of exam security through scribbling tomes of notes. But those notes have to stay outside when you sit your exam.

To be effective, notes taking has to be done quickly to minimize lecture distraction; effective notes must summarize; and effective notes have to be reviewed or they are useless. Otherwise you are better off drawing cartoons in class and reading your textbook at home.

The reason effective notes are better than taped lectures is that they summarize an hour of exposition into ten minutes of text. Effective note taking is achieved by digesting and compressing information.

To do really effective note taking in class you have to keep asking "what did s/he just say that's important" and "how's that relate to what I just wrote." Summarize, connect the dots, and review the flow after class.

Note Taking Strategies

The most important note taking strategy is not to, unless it will help you. Taking notes isn't what gets you better grades. Mastering what you need to know and writing the correct answer in exams is. In fact, spending too much time doing notes during class distracts you from grasping concepts your teacher is giving you. Too many students get a false sense of exam security from writing fat notes.

The next strategy to consider is that messy notes are fine. Every adult in the work force today has a box of notes they took during school in a landfill somewhere. Notes are meant to be used then discarded. You're not going to peruse them again 10 years from now. So time spent writing in different color inks, highlighting, white'ing out etc is wasted time you could be spending at the beach or watching the Super Bowl.

Again, taking notes isn't what gets you higher grades! If you never look back at your notes, taking notes is a waste of time. If what you're writing down in your notes is in your textbook which you must read anyway, then taking those notes is a redundant waste of time. Notes should only be of unique material or tips, summaries and connections not immediately available from your textbooks.

There are two broad strategies to taking notes: semantic and pictorial. Semantic note taking means using prose to record your lecture experience. These people like using ruled paper and write line by line which anyone can make sense of. Pictorial people like blank sheets of paper which they can scrawl, doodle, and diagram on, readable only to themselves later. The best approach is a combination of both approaches with a slant towards pictorial.

Note Taking Shorthand Abbreviations

Shorthand is a note taking method of writing faster by substituting letters, abbreviations, or symbols in place of longer letters, words, or phrases.

There are formal shorthand systems around such as speed writing Gregg, Pitman, Teeline and others, which were popular before computers. With these shorthand systems you could write notes at up to 200 words per minute! (The average student can only write at 30 words per minute).

The disadvantage of the formal note taking shorthand's is the learning curve to learn them. The fastest systems can take up to a year to master. But there are two informal shorthand note taking methods you should look at - Easyscript (new) and Speedwriting (1924) - both easily mastered, and can boost your note taking speed to 60 to 80 words per minute. Easyscript shorthand has an advantage if you use a laptop to record your lecture notes as it can be input via a standard keyboard and converted back to regular writing using an interpreter.

A simple way to take notes faster is just to abbreviate. You already know many common note taking abbreviations such as:

  • "&" for and.
  • "#" for number.
  • "$" for dollars.
  • "∴" for therefore.
  • "etc" for etcetera.
  • Another quick method to abbreviate any word in your note taking is to skip vowels e.g. "The quick brown fox" becomes "Th qck brwn fx".

Taking notes faster with shorthand or abbreviations can be a huge advantage to you by allowing you to jot down what you need faster so you pay more attention to what's being said and less looking at your page.

Note Taking Software

If you take most of your notes on a computer you should check out Texter. This nifty little note taking software allows you to create your own shorthand abbreviations which when entered on your screen is automatically converted back to the real assigned word as you type e.g. punch in cbz and out prints cyclobenzene on your screen. It's light on system resources. And best of all, this note taking super time saver is free from the good folks at Lifehacker.com.

Another noteworthy piece of freeware for those of you who type class notes is Notely. This clever note taking software also organizes your notes and includes a calendar, scheduler, converter, dictionary, calculator and more. Worth a look.

NoteMesh is a useful cloud app that allows you to share notes with your friends. It works by creating a common wiki for each class that pals can contribute to. That means only one person per class needs to take notes and their friends can all access their notes.

StudyCram Cell Phone Note Taking Method

Why take notes at all? You can use your cell phone camera is a lightning fast note taking method. Just point, click, and the whole blackboard contents are yours in under a second. This note taking method frees your hands from writers cramp, frees your mind to concentrate on information delivered, and frees up your time to chill between teacher sound bites.

Tips to use Cell Phone Note Taking

  • Sit toward the front of the class. If you have to sit further back try using the digital zoom to capture the text.
  • If the blackboard or whiteboard is very wide, sit on either side of the classroom or auditorium to compress the blackboard image by perspective. Sitting in the middle can make it hard to capture the whole board in one shot, and tends to be distracting to your neighbors.
  • Email your notes from your cell to yourself after class. Create a "notes taken" folder in your email program on your laptop or desktop and save the pictorial notes all in one spot there.
  • Don't make it obvious. Many teachers are camera shy and will demand you stop - if they see what you're doing. So don't seat yourself in the front row. The second row gives you a good view of the board and shields you from view. Takes your snapshot notes when the prof is looking at the other side of the class or facing the board.

This technique can be mixed with traditional note taking ie big chunks of writing port to your cell and smaller bits port to your pad. It's also a neat way to quickly capture timetables, library hours, exam schedules etc

StudyCram © "Naughty Notes" Taking Method

  • Study Cram Note Taking Method #1: Messiness is bliss. Get ideas, diagrams, concepts, formulas down on paper as fast as you can. Scratch out mistakes - don't waste time erasing, white'ing out, or colorizing. Dirty notes work.
  • Study Cram Note Taking Method #2: Learn a note taking shorthand, make your own, or at minimum abbreviate. We recommend trying Easyscript shorthand.
  • Study Cram Note Taking Method #3: Partition your note page. There are many ways to do this. One way is to keep a left margin clear to jot down questions and things to look-up and arrows to point out particularly important notes in the main body of the page. Keep the top of the page for title flags. And keep the very bottom of the page for summary. Take a look at the Cornell University method.
  • Study Cram Note Taking Method #4: Use hand written notes. Laptop note taking restricts your flow and distracts your attention. Save your computer for writing term papers.
  • Study Cram Note Taking Method #5: SUMMARIZE. Summarize. summarize. Write down only what you must. If you already know a fact then why write it down? If one line will suffice, why write two?
  • Study Cram Note Taking Method #6: Try different types of pen and pencil (eg Hb vs 2B, gel vs ballpoint vs fountain) and different grips and shaft widths at a school supply store. You'll find that some writing tools work better for your style of writing than others and some are easier to see on your pad. If you can shave off a couple seconds every class that's minutes by the end of each year.
  • Study Cram Note Taking Method#7: KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid. Remember always that you aren't marked on your notes. You're marked on writing down the right answer in exams. Period. So write down just what you don't already know.
  • Combine pencil and paper note taking with the StudyCram Cell Phone Note Taking Method.

The StudyCram 3R's - How to Use Your Notes Effectively

After you're done note taking there are 3 steps to bringing them to life, Read-over, Recite, and Run-through:

  1. Read-over your notes. How often? As often as it takes to memorize them. So that could be once, once a week, once a day, whatever it takes.
  2. Recite your notes from memory. If you can't, go back and read them again.
  3. Run-through questions. Your notes are dead if they don't help you to answer test questions correctly. And the only way to finds holes in your knowledge is by testing yourself. If you hit a question which stumps you that your notes can't answer look in your textbook or ask your prof.

Study notes can be powerful weapons in your exam arsenal if used right, or they can be a collosal waste of time if you write without thinking and delude yourself into thinking you must take notes just because everybody else is. You shouldn't, if your notes aren't helping you to answer exams correctly or you're wasting time. Make your notes count or not at all.

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Article Last Updated: March 30 2012
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