Note Taking Skills
Note-taking is a process of making choices about what is important in your course materials and synthesizing this information for test preparation. While you're reading your learning materials, decide why you need to summarize your notes - to study for a test? as supporting evidence for a paper? for future reference?
Here are some suggestions on how to take notes that will help you learn course material:
Finish reading before you take notes or mark the text. You need to understand the full context of a paragraph or section before you decide what you need to record.
Be selective. Mark or note only meaningful words, phrases, and sentences. This step is difficult because to be selective you must read critically and think about what you have read. When taking your own notes, try to summarize ideas in one or two sentences.
When taking notes, use your own words. Unless you need a specific quotation of an author's ideas, writing down ideas using another person's words is a waste of time. You need to understand what you're reading well enough to write it using your own words.
Work quickly. Read, go back for a mini-overview, make your notes or markings, and move on.
Write clearly. Your notes are no good to you if you can't understand them later. Write in complete ideas, not disembodied words or phrases. If you are writing by hand, write neatly.
Cross-reference. If you find an idea that relates to a previous one, include that connection in your notes. It will help you when you are reviewing your notes.
Use visual aids. Draw, copy, or include diagrams, charts, and other graphics. With online materials, you can save images and insert them directly into your notes or print them and include them in your course binder.
Adapted with permission from by Walter Pauk, How to Study in College (6th ed., 1997).
Information can be recalled effectively for up to 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, your ability to remember information decreases rapidly. By spending a few minutes reviewing material soon after you learn it, you can significantly reduce the time needed to relearn the knowledge when you need it. Timely review of course material enables you to improve the quality of future learning by building on a well-remembered foundation. This foundation allows your mind to make connections and linkages that it would not otherwise make.
Deciding what review strategies to use or what approach to take for an assignment before you begin can save you time later. Many students jump into an assignment or a study strategy and discover midway through the process that a different approach would have produced better results and saved time.
Some suggestions on how to approach an assignment or a study task:
Use the summary outline at the end of each chapter to identify key concepts, terms, and themes.
Complete the learning activities for each learning outcome. The answers to the questions in the learning activities are provided and are a good guide to help you to identify key ideas and themes that you may be tested on later.
Determine how you can accomplish the task. What strategies can you use?
Decide what strategy is most appropriate for the material. You may need different learning strategies depending on the task. Ask yourself questions such as:
What kind of thinking and learning is required?
Do I need to learn facts and details or important ideas?
Am I expected to apply this to a new situation?
Am I expected to evaluate the material?
Identify what needs to be memorized. Create lists, charts, diagrams or study sheets of terms, parts, rules, data, or any material that you need to be able to recall exactly. Reviewing facts several times over a week is much more effective than one long study session. Practise reciting that material whenever you are waiting in line or while driving. Memorizing is much easier if you also understand the process, concept, or relationships behind the facts because you will have a framework to use to organize the facts.
Understanding Concepts and Relationships Between Ideas
Look for connections between the new information and what you already know. Draw a mind map with the idea you want to understand in the middle of the page. Think of related ideas, processes, or examples and write those in whatever way makes sense to you around the topic in the middle. Ask yourself how this concept is related to concepts covered earlier in the course.
Applying Ideas to Problems or Unfamiliar Situations
If you need to review course material as part of learning how to perform a task, procedure, or process, think about how the information affects the outcome of the procedure. Identify useful background information that will help you do the process. If appropriate, practise or think through the procedure or process, and identify key concepts or facts as you go through it.
For example, to paint a room, you will have to know:
what tools are needed to do the job
how to work with the paint, such as whether it will cover the existing paint or whether you will need a primer,
what steps you need to know if you want to achieve a special effect by using a glaze other variables that affect the painting process, such as the kind of paint you should use, the surface you're painting on, the time of year, and ventilation required.
In this example, your knowledge of paint, tools needed to paint and the type of surface you're painting. will determine how successful you are with the painting process and the quality of the final product.
Why create a Mind Map?
Mind mapping can help you understand and remember important information from your course materials. A map helps you to focus on key concepts and ideas from your notes, helping you to remember important information that you may be tested on.
How to create a Mind Map
Create your mind map by writing down a central idea in the middle of a blank piece of paper. With the main idea or topic in the middle of the page, think of related topics which will radiate out from the centre. Make sure that you leave lots of space so that you can write down as many ideas that will branch from the main idea. By focussing on key ideas and then looking for connections between the ideas, you are mapping knowledge in a manner which will help you understand and remember new information.