Adequate notes are a necessary adjunct to efficient study and learning in college. Think over the following suggestions and improve your note- taking system where needed.

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General suggestions:

  • Listen actively – if possible think before you write – but don’t get behind.
  • Be open minded about points you disagree on. Don’t let arguing interfere with your note-taking.
  • Raise questions if appropriate.
  • Develop and use a standard method of note-taking including punctuation, abbreviations, margins, etc.
  • Take and keep notes in a large notebook. The only merit to a small notebook is ease of carrying and that is not your main objective. A large notebook allows you to adequately indent and use an outline form.
  • Leave a few spaces blank as you move from one point to the next so that you can fill in additional points later if necessary. Your objective is to take helpful notes, not to save paper.
  • Do not try to take down everything that the lecturer says. It is impossible in the first place and unnecessary in the second place because not everything is of equal importance. Spend more time listening and attempt to take down the main points. If you are writing as fast as you can, you cannot be as discriminating a listener. There may be some times, however, when it is more important to write than to think.
  • Listen for cues as to important points, transition form one point to the next, repetition of points for emphasis, changes in voice inflections, enumeration of a series of points, etc.
  • Many lecturers attempt to present a few major points and several minor points in a lecture. The rest is explanatory material and samples. Try to see the main points and do not get lost in a barrage of minor points which do not seem related to each other. The relationship is there if you will listen for it. Be alert to cues about what the professor thinks is important.
  • Make your original notes legible enough for your own reading, but use abbreviations of your own invention when possible. The effort required to recopy notes can be better spent in rereading them and thinking about them. Although neatness is a virtue in some respect, it does not necessarily increase your learning.
  • Copy down everything on the board, regardless. Did you ever stop to think that every blackboard scribble may be a clue to an exam item? You may not be able to integrate what is on the board into your lecture notes, but if you copy it, it may serve as a useful clue for you later. If not, what the heck — you haven’t wasted anything. You were in the classroom anyway.
  • Sit as close to the front of the class, there are fewer distractions and it is easier to hear, see and attend to important material.
  • Get assignments and suggestions precisely – ask questions if you’re not sure.

Note-Taking Skills

Note-Taking Skills

Evalute Your Present Note-Taking System

Ask yourself:

  1. Did I use complete sentences? They are generally a waste of time.
  2. Did I use any form at all? Are my notes clear or confusing?
  3. Did I capture main points and all subpoints?
  4. Did I streamline using abbreviations and shortcuts?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you may need to develop some new note-taking skills!

Five Important Reasons to Take Notes

  1. It triggers basic lecturing processes and helps you to remember information.
  2. It helps you to concentrate in class.
  3. It helps you prepare for tests.
  4. Your notes are often a source of valuable clues for what information the instructor thinks most important (i.e., what will show up on the next test).
  5. Your notes often contain information that cannot be found elsewhere (i.e., in your textbook).

Guidelines for Note-Taking

  1. Concentrate on the lecture or on the reading material.
  2. Take notes consistently.
  3. Take notes selectively. Do NOT try to write down every word. Remember that the average lecturer speaks approximately 125-140 words per minute, and the average note-taker writes at a rate of about 25 words per minute.
  4. Translate ideas into your own words.
  5. Organize notes into some sort of logical form.
  6. Be brief. Write down only the major points and important information.
  7. Write legibly. Notes are useless if you cannot read them later!
  8. Don’t be concerned with spelling and grammar.

Tips for Finding Major Points in Lectures

The speaker is usually making an important point if he or she:

  1. Pauses before or after an idea.
  2. Uses repetition to emphasize a point.
  3. Uses introductory phrases to precede an important idea.
  4. Writes an idea on the board.

Forms of Note-Taking

  1. OutliningI. Topic sentence or main idea
    A. Major points providing information about topic
    1. Subpoint that describes the major point
    a. Supporting detail for the subpoint
  2. Patterning: flowcharts, diagrams
  3. Listing, margin notes, highlighting

Ways to Reduce and Streamline Notes

  1. Eliminate small connecting words such as: is, are, was, were, a, an, the, would, this, of. Eliminate pronouns such as: they, these, his, that, them. However, be careful NOT to elimate these three words: and, in, on.
  2. Use symbols to abbreviate, such as:+, & for and, plus
    = for equals
    – for minus
    # for number
    x for times
    > for greater than, more, larger
    < for less than, smaller, fewer than
    w/ for with
    w/o for without
    w/in for within
    —-> for leads to, produces, results in
    <—- for comes from
    / for perFor example:
    “The diameter of the Earth is four times greater than the diameter of the Moon.”
    Becomes:
    “Earth = 4x > diameter of Moon.”
  3. Substitute numerals with symbols, for instance:Substitute “one” with 1
    Substitute “third” with 3rd
  4. Abbreviate:Drop the last several letters of a word. For example, substitute “appropriate” with “approp.”
    Drop some of the internal vowels of a word. For example, substitute “large” with “lrg.”

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