Study skills 9# The art of note-taking
Never underestimate the subtle art of taking notes. You think that you can rely only on your memory while passively listening to lectures? Well, think again. You wouldn’t believe how people remember things differently or don’t remember them at all. The first rule should be: Always take notes!
Rule 1: Always take notes
Taking notes is a form pre-studying. If your notes are solid, you don’t have to start from scratch using a textbook when the test comes so it actually saves time. Also, and that’s for sure, your teacher will often include important pieces of information they expect you to know for the exam but that might not be included in your textbook. So pay attention!
Rule 2: Go through your notes
Not a night before the test, go through your notes ideally that very day you made them. It’s likely you didn’t manage to jot down everything so now’s the time to fill those gaps while the lecture is still fresh in your mind. Your future self will thank you for that later, trust me. Also, it boosts your memory. Remember the principle of spaced repetition and go through your notes on regular basis. If you do so, studying for the test will be as simple as a revision.
Rule 3: Don’t be afraid to reduce
While the rule of thumb says that it’s better to write too much than nothing at all, you can’t possibly note down every single word the teacher says, that’s just humanly impossible and also not needed at all. Make use of abbreviations for words and special terms that repeat regularly and omit unimportant words. This is the only case when you don’t have to be afraid of producing bad grammar. And a shorter version is much easier to study.
Use the famous Pareto 80/20 principle. Yes, it can be applied also to note-taking. You can actually reduce study material by 80% and still get all the information you need. And why’s that? Simply because not all words are equally important, you need just those 20% that really carry the meaning. Look for key words like nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives. Omit the rest, it’s just fluff.
Rule 4: Adopt a note-taking system
Think about how you take your notes. Is there a specific technique you use? Bullet points maybe? But is it really working for you? Is it truly effective? For a lot of subjects, you can make use of mind maps which are much more creative and can better illustrate connections between individual pieces of information. It works especially well for visual people. If you’re more of a linear type, try out Cornell method of note-taking. Google it as it might be a life-changer for you.
Rule 5: Computer note-taking
If you’re like me and you just hate writing down everything by hand, you can always use your laptop. You might want to learn how to type using all 10 fingers, though. It’ll save you a tremendous amount of time and energy. I learnt it at grammar school and although I hated the subject at first, it became one of a few skills they taught me and I use literally every day.
Taking notes using your laptop has another additional value than saving time. It’s very easy to edit your notes afterwards, adding new information or deleting redundant things. And adding pictures and diagrams. Naturally, there’s no danger you won’t be able to read your own handwriting and it’s also super easy to send your notes to a classmate who stayed at home with a flu without being nervous they might lose your precious paper notebook or not return it on time.
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Rule 6: Come up with a system that works for you
You might find that for some lectures you prefer writing down notes by hand (like Maths) while others are much easier dealt with when using a laptop. Some people can’t wrap their heads around mind maps while others hate the rigidity of Cornell method. Use what works for you and tailor it to suit your needs. Just remember the first two rules: Do take notes and go through them!
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