Tag Archives: studying

What I’ve learned about taking notes

I remember being worried that I would have to take notes directly from teachers talking once I got to university. However, this very well may be because I’m in engineering, but I still haven’t encountered a teacher who doesn’t use some sort of visual aid. I have encountered teacher’s with messy writing, who go through slides to fast, who are hard to understand, and who organize information differently than me, which all pose there own challenges. I’ve learned a couple things about note taking by trial and error. Here they are:

First of all general comments:

  1. The goal of taking notes is to learn material. So people with near perfect memory, who pick up concepts immediately, and then are able to apply them flawlessly when it comes to assignment and tests don’t really need to take them. I mean, their class may kill them in that case, but academically speaking they don’t need to take them.
  2. Regardless of the fat that we’re not all geniuses, notes should still help the note taker understand and remember class material, so people with different learning styles notes should look different
  3. As easy as it is to just write without thinking about your writing, that partially defeats the purpose of note taking. However, if that’s your style that’s cool, but you should be making use of your notes in some other way in that case. Like reading them repetitively, reviewing examples, creating cheat sheets, or summarizing.
  4. When I first got to university I was shown a model of note taking where new variable and terms are defined in the margin and the main learning objectives, key points of the page were summarized in the bottom. This probably works great for lots of people, but I tried it last semester and it didn’t work great for me. What did end up working was highlighting titles of sections in one colour, and important information in another, and then on loose leaf writing a summary of information I need to memorize, key points and important formulas that I add to after every class. When I do assignments I tend to use these summaries instead of wading through notebooks. In addition rewriting stuff while actively sorting through what I know and don’t know and need to practice is a good way of studying. I usually go through the examples in my notes again as I do this as well, to make sure I understand everything. I also only do this for the classes I find it useful.
  5. Write down what the teacher says. Usually teachers will have power point slides, or will write on the chalkboard/whiteboard, and as important as that information is it’s usually more readily available from other sources such as your textbook, course notes, and the internet, then the things your teacher actually says.
  6. Make cheat sheets before exams even if you’re not allowed in order to recognize and target the important points of the course, and then memorize the information you would like to bring to the text with you (If you aren’t allowed a cheat sheet). If you aren’t allowed a cheat sheet you may not want to try and fit all the information on a single page, then again, maybe you will. I don’t know.
  7. Personally I really really like taking the notes for a single subject in a singleĀ  notebook. That way everything is in order and you cant lose pages. Downside is if you forget the book then you have to write on other paper and put that in a binder and not forget about those additional notes (although now when that happens I just paperclip them in to my notebook and that seems to work fine – problem solved!) I then keep all my assignments and such in a binder with a section for each subject. This works really well for me and everything stays well organized. You could try it too if you like.

Quick Tips:

  • Listen for the words “Exam” as in “I put this question on an exam once”, “I would make this question harder on an exam by”,”Remember ___ for your exam” and write down any other words in the vincinity
  • Review your notes one way or another
  • If you’re a visual learner try using coloured pens for note taking, use different colours for the bulk of your notes, examples, definitions, and any other key points
  • Highlight stuff, a lot, but not everything, with multiple colours
  • Use multiple colours of highlighters
  • Review periodically, not just right before the exam
  • It doesn’t really matter if your notes are neat or not, but you do need to be able to read them, so if you can only read neat writing THEN they should be neat, also it’s just nicer in general to read neat writing
  • Bullet points and numbered lists are fun! Include them in your notes in addition to in your late night tumblr posts!
  • If a prof says something that clarifies a point in a lecture, write THAT down IMMEDIATELY, you may forget at some point, and that point may be able to make things click again. Voila!
  • Reword stuff, the effort will help you remember it
  • Write down examples
  • If a teacher goes to fast in class either leave room to fill in notes with course notes/slides (if provided), print out power point slides ahead and bring to class (once again if provided), or summarize and write down the most important things first
  • Use bookmark stickynotes to tag pages with summaries, important formulas or other especially useful information so that they’re easy to find whenever you need them
  • Always either get notes from a friend or from the internet (if the prof uses ACE or another system to share files with the class and is in a habit of posting his or her notes) when you miss class, also actually look at those notes
  • Underline headings
  • Don’t use a computer to take notes for science and math classes unless you a) have a tablet, b) have a bamboo, c) are a boss (due to the fact that these classes have a ton of calculations, formulas, diagrams, Greek…)
  • Write prof quotes in your margins. Why? Because it will make you happier about life, and give you something funny to post on the internet (Warning: you may get sad when/if you no longer have an abundance of funny profs in a future semester)
  • Leave lines blank, allowing for white space makes things immensely easier to read (paper is cheap compared to your education)
  • Regardless of how important visual learning is in your overall learning character, have a coloured pen around to write down important stuff, or to mark up prof notes with answers to questions, notation, and the various other things they like leaving out so you actually have to attend class
  • Go to bed on time. How is this relevant you may ask? I am up writing this and it is late and I should be summarizing notes and copying math notes and sleeping, but I was just struck by how much I’ve learned about note taking since the beginning of this year and wanted to share it with the lovely internets. Goodnight.

P.S. It IS late, so excuse me if I didn’t edit this thoroughly. Also, I realized I used ‘teachers’ instead of ‘profs’ pretty much the whole way through. I am too lazy to go back and make the replacements, but I figure that you can do that in your head.

What I’ve learned about University

1. So everyone knows that you don’t get badgered to turn you homework in or go to class once you reach university, however, while ranting about independence and responsibility people tend to neglect to tell you that everything you really still informed of everything you need to know and what you have to do. It’s not really that big of a deal, just do it.

2. Even though classes are a little terrifying at first, once you really absorb your first few lectures you’re likely to come to a surprising conclusion: I did this in highschool. Say WHAT?! What I found in my classes (except chemistry) is that we were retaught a lot of stuff at first, with variable names and theorems suddenly attached. Formal definitions and so many subscripts. If only they just taught things the right way the first time…in an ideal world.

3. Time management is HARD

4. Find people to study with. Teachers and TAs are good resources when it comes to questions and extra help but so is your class. So help each other out, it reinforces concepts when you explain them to someone else so both parties get something worthwhile out of it. And its a way to get some social interaction in when you have a ton of stuff to get done.

5. It’s important to know your priorities, and learn to actually keep them. Along the same lines as time management.

6. There are going to be a million people around you who suddenly seem better than you. Try not to let it be disheartening. There are mad skills everywhere, but this is a good thing, you can learn from them, make friends and such. Always surround yourself with good people and remember you’re capable of stuff.

7. Keep on top of things. Meaning, don’t just half understand course material and then teach yourself the whole course the night before your exam. It’s doable and people do do it all the time, but its the most sucky thing ever. Just buckle down and resist those kareoke parties.

8. Buy snacks somewhere (anywhere) other than on campus vending machines.

9. Go to class.

10. Take breaks while studying to keep focused, but don’t use the “I can’t focus anyways” excuse unless you really deserve a break (after midterm week anyone?) In those cases cut yourself some slack, the rest of the time focus.

11. More on focusing: figure out what works best, places, people, music, times of day.

12. Find the good times to do laundry.

13. The transition is hard for some people, but it really isn’t that bad for lots of people too. Don’t psych yourself out. Embrace challenges, let things go, do things that make you happy and work hard.