Note-taking Tips

Note-taking is one of those critical skills most people don’t really learn in high school. Here are a few basic tips that will help you get a handle on the note-taking process–and help you out when its time to cram later!

Class, Date and Time.

You might think writing the class/date/time and essayvikings safe at the top of your notes is a waste of time, but if your notes get disorganized, it is your best way to figure out which notes belong to which lecture-you can just compare the date to your syllabus.

Lecture Number & Title.

Especially helpful for profs whose lectures spill over into the next time class meets. Track the lecture number and title (especially if your professor changes lectures midway through class) so you can refer to the right sections of the book for backup.

Note to Self.

I am a big believer in the “note-to-self” aspect of note-taking. Writing notes to your future self saves a lot of time and confusion, and can help you keep from missing out on (or forgetting!) important information. Make sure you mark the following things down for your future self to review:

  • “Missed 1st20 min of Lecture.” Mark down if you doze off mid-lecture, come in late, or leave early so you can borrow a friend’s notes & catch up later. I’ve missed quite a few test questions because of incomplete notes.
  • “Not sure what he said here. Sounded like Golgi?” If you didn’t understand something the professor said, let yourself know so you can look it up/check with a classmate later.
  • “***This WILL BE ON TEST***”If your prof gives you a heads up that something will be on the test, write it down!!! It’s like a free answer!
  • “See Diagram 9B, pg. 618″Instead of trying to copy down diagrams that are already in your book, just note the page number at the relevant point in your notes. If it’s helpful, copy it down later.

Page Numbers.

So basic, but numbering the corners of your pages is a lifesaver when you’ve been shuffling papers around during hours of studying (or if your roommate turns a fan on during a study session).

Note-taking Tips 2 (What to Write)

You can’t copy down an entire lecture, word-for-word. If you did, you probably wouldn’t be able to focus on the content; you’d be much too busy trying to get all the words down. That’s why it’s important to know which information to keep, and which to let go.

Drawings, Diagrams, and Charts.

If you’re a visual learner (like me!) you should try to copy down as many of the graphs & charts your teacher shows as possible. In fact, if something isn’t making sense, it wouldn’t hurt to make up your own diagrams and charts, too. Imagery such as diagrams (like the internal workings of the kidney), as well as flow charts of processes (like how a bill becomes a law) can be easier to visualize during tests.

Charts and graphs are one thing you don’t always need to copy down. Often times they are used simply to underscore a key point. However, if your professor tends to use lecture material heavily in tests, those charts or graphs could pop up again, and you’ll want them to look familiar!

Read the Professor.

One of the best ways to know what information is important is to key in on your professor’s verbalization and attitude (as the NY Times wisely suggests). Your professor will give you hints about what is important, so watch out for topics that cause the following:

  • Louder speaking voice
  • Increasingly zealous body language (like arm-waving, pointing, etc.)
  • Verbal clues (lots of professors will actually say, “This is important!” or “You don’t need to copy this down.”)
  • Visual clues (like circling something, drawing on an overhead/laptop, adding a star, etc.)
  • Repetition of certain words, phrases, or concepts
  • Asking the class to repeat something back

All the above indicators mean he/she is talking about something important, so be sure you write it down and LEARN it!


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