My Notes are Better Than Yours: The Student Guide to Expert Note Taking

Unfortunately, note taking is an element of student life that you just can’t avoid—if you want to pass, that is.

But how effectively are we taking notes?

A study published at the University of Michigan indicated that students recall more information from lectures on both immediate and delayed tests if they take notes.

However, the study also indicated that students “fail to record 40% of the important points in a typical lecture, with first-year students recording, on average, only 11%.” Yikes!

To help, I have researched the most effective tips to help improve our note taking skills, and subsequently our test scores. Now, of course, we are all beautiful individuals, and, in saying that, it follows that the same note taking method doesn’t work for everyone. So, take what works for you and incorporate it into your future notes!

Before Class

Preparation for class is often key to student success. Usually, preparing for class consists of doing the assigned reading. If you can, writing notes while you’re reading will help you recall key points, as well provide background information for the lecture.

During Class

During high school, I was warned against writing down everything my professor said during a lecture; however, during my first few classes, I noticed many students doing just that.

As the professor began to speak, the race began and students slovenly scribbled down his every utterance, including everything from the dates of the agricultural revolution and a story about his dog.

Now, while you may have a verbatim transcript of the lecture, (if you can manage to get it all down) it becomes difficult for students to pick out key points for studying later.

It would be impossible to memorize every detail—instead, get a grasp on the basic and important facts.

Follow the pace of your instructor and use abbreviations or symbols to help keep up. For instance, use arrows to indicate increases or decreases and initials for names. If you do happen to fall behind, leave space to fill in the blanks later and write question marks next to concepts you need to clarify or revisit later on.

Focus on the key ideas such as a major events, people, formulas, or theories. Pay particular attention to your professor’s body language, verbal inflections, or opening phrases to help you decipher which information is important. Instructors will frequently make comments like, “This is an important concept,” or, “Make sure you understand this.” This indicates that topic will most likely be found on a test or exam.

Get your highlighter out in these cases.

After the Lecture

Congratulations, you made it through class—but now what? Many of us leave class and don’t look at our notes again until the exam. After class, take the time to reorganize your notes, fill in blanks, and review the material. This will help you avoid cramming before the exam.

Note Taking Tips and Tricks

Note Taking 2

Keep Your Notes Uniform

Using the same format, colours and abbreviations will keep your notes neat, simple, and oh-so-perfect for studying.

Write Notes to Your Future Self

Invest in your future self! How many times do we tell ourselves, “I’ll remember that” and don’t? Write little notes for yourself in the margins to help you remember smaller details or pinpoint content your instructor mentioned will be on the exam.

Keep Your Notes in One Place

Whether it is a notebook or binder, keep your notes in one place. Having one note on your laptop, another in your binder, and one crumpled at the bottom of your backpack is a recipe for disaster.

Handwrite Your Notes!

While this might not work for everyone, studies have proven that handwriting your notes, opposed to typing, improves memory.

“Those who took notes in longhand, and were able to study, did significantly better than any of the other students in the experiment—better even than the fleet typists who had basically transcribed the lectures. That is, they took fewer notes overall with less verbatim recording, but they nevertheless did better on both factual learning and higher-order conceptual learning.”

Now I’m not saying that handwriting notes is the best option for everybody, but it is something to consider if you have difficulty recalling information from the lecture notes on your laptop.

And Finally – Keep Writing!

Even if you become confused, fall behind, or just feel a little lazy that day, push yourself and keep writing. Those notes will be extremely valuable to you in the future.

If you know any other tips and tricks for note taking, leave us a comment and share your knowledge with other students!

Photos courtesy of Picjumbo + Sebastian ter Burg

Kylie-Anne Grube

Kylie-Anne Grube

Kylie-Anne Grube is an English major studying at Nipissing University. She is often found curled up with a good book and loves writing stories and poetry in her journal. Kylie aspires to one day become a professional writer or editor.