Note-Taking 101

College is a time to develop many of the fundamental skills that will be essential to you throughout your career. Things like public speaking, problem solving, and collaboration are all vital both at school and in the workforce. One skill that does not tend to receive as much attention is note-taking. Because many of us prefer to use our laptops to take notes and due to the quantity and density of the information taught in class, we often make a habit of transcribing what the professor is saying or copying lecture slides word for word, which is neither efficient nor beneficial.

First, it’s good to note that most of what you’ll need to know for exams comes directly from the professor’s lectures, although not everything will be of equal importance to you. The key is to be able to listen and pick out what’s more important and write it down. Information that your professor repeats, that is recalled at the start of class or summarized at the end of it, or that is indicated as important, is most likely something you will be seeing on assignments and exams. By being selective about what you note down and how much detail you go into, you give yourself not only the opportunity to actively listen, but also the time to understand and organize the information.

The most important thing with note-taking is to find what works for you. Typing out what you hear on a blank word processor may be the easiest way to take notes, but make room for diagrams and doodles for concepts that need more explanation; add colors to text; and bold, underline, and italicize words to make ideas stand out and sort through information that may not be as significant as you had originally thought. Many of my professors have urged their students to try taking notes by hand because of the research demonstrating the benefits of doing so. I can vouch for the fact that note-taking by pen and paper does help with remembering information and has actually made studying much easier for me. For myself personally, I alternate between hand notes and typing depending on the class, the professor’s teaching style, and the nature of the material.

Regardless of how you take your notes, there’s something important that applies to all – organization. I’ve known people who have sworn by taking notes without titles, subtitles, dates, etc., but I personally cannot imagine my own notes without them. Having organized notes makes it easier for me to go over them after class and use them when reviewing for exams. It’s also much more convenient to go back and connect with class lectures when I don’t understand something if my notes are titled and dated.

It’s important to put effort into your notes because they are a central part of your class, but also remember that they don’t need to be “pretty” – just legible, organized, and containing the more important information. Once you have found a note-taking style and system that works best for you, you will be more likely to stay engaged with the material and  get the most out of your classes.

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