Secrets of Top Notch Note Takers

Written by on September 11, 2012 in Career - No comments | Print this page


School is back and you’re only just getting reacquainted with campus, catching up with old friends, and remembering where the good vending machines are. Who has time for much else? Between scribbling assignments in your student planner and finding that old chemistry building, you might be forgetting one important thing that can make or break your academic career this semester. And just what might that special thing be? Taking awesome notes, of course!

Unless you are gifted with perfect recall, you might want to study up on this because note-taking is your one true ally when it comes to lectures. And don’t try and cheat with a tape recorder! There’s a reason why the world switched from cassettes to digital; all that rewinding and fast-forwarding was both annoying and a waste of time. If you take notes the right way, you’ll never have to rely on that pesky recorder or bug a friend for their notes ever again!

In my four years of college, I had classes that were as big as 500 students and as small as seven. Regardless of the size, I found note-taking was vital in both remembering the information taught and for studying purposes at a later date. It’s a visual record of everything that your professor went over in class so you’ll always know what was said on what day. Included in this article are just some of the tips and tricks of note-taking that I found helpful. And hey, I graduated with a 3.5 GPA so that’s got to count for something!

Let’s get the obvious over with first. Be sure to date and title each page of notes. Catastrophe can and will ensue when you’ve accidentally shuffled your papers and suddenly you’ve paired your Greek Mythology notes with your Sociology notes – bad combination! This brings us to our next helpful hint: keep your notes in an orderly fashion and well protected. You can always find binders and folders at a cheap price and you’ll still have some beer money left over for the weekend! Now you just have to remember to take your binders with you. And our final obvious hint…and then I promise I’ll get to the good stuff…handwriting.

I know, I sound like your 4th grade teacher telling you that your chicken scratch just won’t make it in this world and that you better loop those O’s and Aa’s correctly, but she was onto something! You can take the best notes in the world, always catching your professor’s nuances when he hints at something that will show up on a test, but what’s the point in taking those perfect notes if you can’t read them? So take a little time to dot your I’s and cross your T’s. I promise it will pay off in the end.

Now, let’s move onto the knitty-gritty and less obvious note-taking tricks. I’ve already mentioned this before, but just in case you’re not one of those great hint takers, professors always like to clue their students into test topics and terms. Be on the lookout for important vocabulary that seems to get repeated or you remember from your reading materials. Make a note of those words on your notes by drawing a star next to them or highlight those words with your favorite smelly highlighter. If you’re unsure about the meaning of those words or terms, this will be a great indicator during study times to know what you should be looking up.

Next, create a cohesive outline. I’ve seen notes where each line was lined up with the red line on the right side of the page and then students will be struggling to figure out where one section ends and another one begins. I’ve also seen notes where a student thinks every sentence is a new section and they will end up wasting space on their paper as they indent their way off the page. Find a happy medium and decide on a style that works for you.

For example, a classic Roman Numeral outline is clean and definitive. Each section starts out with I, II, III, etc. Then each sub-section can either alphabetic (A, B, C) or numeric (1, 2, 3). Another classic outline template is the clean and simple bullet point outline. This one is especially good for doodlers because you’ll be able to keep focused on the lecture and you will be making some “sanctioned” doodles for each new section and sub-section of the lecture. Whichever you choose, make it personal and simple so next time it’s 3am and you’re cramming for a test, you’ll know what section of your notes to look at for the right information (but you won’t be cramming at 3am since you’re such an excellent note taker and you already have the material down-pat!).

My final tip to you is an important one. If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this: do not, I repeat, do not take notes verbatim. While this seems like the easiest way to take notes because you can’t possibly miss a thing the professor says, you’ll actually cause more problems for yourself. First, you will never be able to write as fast as your professor talks (unless maybe you have Ferris Bueller’s teacher……………Bueller………….Bueller………………….Bueller). And even if you can write as fast as your professor talks (Bueller…………), you are most likely skirting one of my “obvious” tips – neat handwriting! Furthermore, you’ll never be able to block out the fluff and remember the good stuff if you write down each and every word that comes out of your professor’s mouth. So pay attention, pick out the important facts, and write those down…neatly.

This school year, if you’re going to do one thing right, make sure its taking great notes! As long as you’ve got that down, study groups, tests, and everything else will fall into place. Just keep things clean, simple, and concise – that’s half the battle! Now if only you could motivate yourself enough to get out of bed…

This is a guest post.  Gina Vinnitsky is an SEO Copywriter. She is working with Action Agendas, the authority on student agendas. Be sure to check out their great selection online.

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