Learning From Lectures: Taking Notes

Are you taking good notes? Probably not--research suggests that most students miss at least 40% of the main ideas. Even if you are taking good notes, are you  making good use of those notes? You could find out by filling out this checklist.
You can improve your note-taking by making your notes more visual--or by taking notes in a different way.
How should you take notes?
Although many students seem to do best if they use either the Cornell or the Matrix method, almost any note-taking system will work for you as long as you do the following 4 things:
  1. Write down the important points. Come to class having an idea of what the important points are by taking practice quizzes and by reading the chapter summary. During class, write down points that the professor repeats, writes on the board, speaks more loudly when making, pauses after stating, or announces by saying something like "this is important", "put this in your notes, or "this will be on the test."
  2. Identify gaps and errors and then fill in gaps and correct errors. For some points, you may have left out information or left out an example that you need to make the point clear. Reviewing your notes soon after class to see what makes sense and what doesn't will help you identify those gaps. Consulting the book and classmates will help you fill in those gaps. Looking at classmates' notes will also help you see what points you missed completely and what you may have misunderstood or written down incorrectly. (If you simply can't take notes quickly enough, you could try learning shorthand)
  3. Revise your notes so that you can make two kinds of connections. First, you should know which are the more important, general ideas and which are the supporting details. Indeed, you should be able to look at your notes from several feet away and still immediately be able to distinguish between the main points (probably because your main points are announced in a heading that resembles a headline), the secondary points (probably because your secondary points are subheadings that fit under those headings), and the examples and details (probably because you have them as bullet points). The quickest ways to show the relative importance of points are by starring, indenting, numbering, and using bullet points.
    Second, your notes should make it easy to see the key similarities and differences between concepts. Usually, the best way to make these connections clear is by the converting lines of text in your notes into tables, concept maps (also called mind maps), outlines, or diagrams.
  4. Have a way to test yourself over your notes, and test yourself over your notes frequently. Don't mistake reading over your notes for studying, and don't assume that studying your notes once before the exam will be enough. (Testing yourself over your notes frequently is easy if you take notes using the Cornell method.)

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