5 steps to successful note taking

Taking notes is a widely undervalued skill. It’s easy to zone out in classes when taking notes in its simplest form is tedious but with the following note-taking tactics, you can start to immerse yourself in the information in order to create the most helpful and relevant notes.

  1. Use your voice

The great thing about notes is they’re made by you for you. You get to choose what qualifies to go into your notebook. Don’t replicate the lifeless rhetoric of academic texts in your notes: inject a personal touch to them. Think the novelist you’re studying is a bit pretentious and overrated? Write it down. Have a drawing that helps you remember the stages of photosynthesis? Sketch away.

Another way to use your voice in your notes is to adopt abbreviations. They actually save a lot of time and energy, which allows you to maximise the amount of information you can get down. Of course, there are universal abbreviations like ‘uni’ (for university) but why stop there? Call William Shakespeare Wills if you want to. It might seem like using abbreviations won’t save you a lot of time but in the long run it really does. Just remember not to go overboard; when you look back at your notes, you need to be able to understand what you’ve written. 

  1. Choose practicality over beauty

Although pretty notes are lovely to look at, they are often hugely distracting. Using different colours and cute bubble writing only steals your full attention from what your teacher is saying. Scrap the gel pens and highlighters, stick to a good old black ink pen and get to business. If you’re someone who needs beautiful notes, doll your boring class notes into pieces of art to be marvelled at in revision season. After all, reading, reviewing and copying is great revision. But while you’re in clas focus should be on legibility.

  1. Create your own links

Your friend might take a peek at your notes because they were off ill for a week but actually, they’re just for you. So, make them useful for yourself. While you’re in a class, try and make links with topics you’ve already covered or connect other similar trains of thought. For example, if you study English Literature and you notice the book you’re currently studying shares themes with the book you studied the week before, make a note of it. You’ll thank yourself by the time April comes around and you have to write an essay. The more personal interaction you have with your notes, the more effective and helpful they’ll be.

  1. Research later

Sometimes teachers go off on their own tangents and, although it’s interesting and probably useful, they often reference texts or key thinkers that aren’t on the syllabus (they can’t help it, they are just loving their subjects so much). The massive load of information can be overwhelming. When this happens, write down the things that sound compelling and research them later. You don’t have to know everything they’re talking about in that moment. In that way you can get your research hat on at home and knock your examiners’ the socks off with extra-curricular knowledge. 

  1. Listen

The most obvious and yet the biggest downfall. Lots of students fall into the trap of mindlessly transcribing everything that’s being said. Don’t do this; it’ll only end in hand cramp and forking out more money for notebooks. Instead, actually listen to what is being said. Think about what you’re writing down, what it means, why it’s useful and how you can use it in your coursework or in exams. 

Most higher education facilities upload lesson slideshows online for students to be able to access at home. If this is the case for you, don’t waste time copying information that is in the slideshow because you’ll be able to review it later. Remember that the most valuable information is often hidden in what the teacher is thinking about on the spot; something that isn’t on the slideshow. If it sounds unscripted or off the bat, it’s probably a good idea to jot it down.

Written by Leah Perry

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