Now that we know that taking good notes makes us smarter, we want to learn how to, you know, take good notes! When discussing note-taking, there are good strategies and there are bad strategies. Once you know how good note-takers approach this essential task, you can move on to what they actually do when taking great notes:
DO choose a method of note-taking and use it consistently
You should develop a note-taking system that suits your learning style. If you don’t have a note-taking system, an academic coach can help you formulate one. Many people have great success with using the Cornell note-taking system and adapting it to their personal learning style. Others prefer to use mind-maps or graphic images to record new information. Some like to jazz up their notes with coded colors using markers or post-it notes. Whichever system is most effective for you, the essential skills in note-taking come down to being able to identify the main idea of new concepts and learning how to paraphrase the details.
DO leave spaces when you are taking notes
Learning rarely happens in a linear way because our brains tend to process new information through the lens of a complete picture. You are likely to gain further insight on old information when new information is presented. Leaving space between key concepts in your notes will allow you to go back and add in these new insights. This will help integrate your learning when it comes time to be evaluated on how well you have integrated the new material.
DO find balance between understanding and production
Your brain has limited capacities, and learning when you need to focus on understanding versus when you should be writing information down is crucial to taking good notes. Since working memory is activated when learning new material, there will be moments when comprehending the material will be more important than writing down notes. Deciphering which strategy is better in any given moment will lead to better notes.
DO review your notes before and after class
Reviewing your notes before more new material is presented will kick your brain in gear to prepare you to link what you already know with what you are about to learn. Reviewing your notes right after you’ve learned new material will help you retain what you just learned. If you have a friend to compare notes with, even better! Comparing notes often sheds light on different perspectives and may increase your understanding of the material. All it takes is 5-10 minutes of review to dramatically cut down on study time.
DO ask questions
If you don’t understand something, ask. The best time to ask for clarification is when the question is fresh in your mind. When you wait until after the material has been presented to ask a question, you may completely lose track of what’s happening for the duration of the presentation. When you ask questions as they come up, it allows you to maintain focus and build on the concepts you’re learning.