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Many years ago, I headed off to college for the first time. I was constantly asking myself how I could take notes the right way because I learnt the one thing that most straight-A students had in common was that they used specific note-taking techniques. On top of that, they also summarised core concepts precisely in their own words so as to not lag behind and lose the gist of what was being presented to them.
I was determined to hone the techniques needed to get maximum returns from my note-taking, and indeed, it caused a significant positive impact on my overall results. What did I learn? Don’t be tempted to take a lot of notes – rather make smart notes by using some proven and tested techniques. Many students have problems finding the right note-taking techniques and thus, experience challenges in trying to decipher useful information from them.
If you are struggling with similar issues and realised you have never properly learned how to take notes, here is a list of 4 best note-taking practices that can help you to be an efficient note-taker, and successfully improve your exam scores. Let’s dive in!
People who reap the most benefits out of a lecture or meeting have one core value – the note-taking mindset. Having the note-taking mindset can help you shift your attitude before you even think about heading to that class/ meeting.
And it can make sure you read (or at least skim) all pre-assigned readings from your lecturer or meeting agenda first. Even if you do not have assigned readings, you will end up familiarising yourself with the topic ahead before getting to class/ meeting so that you know what to expect.
However, you may not be sure on how to be an active listener. To achieve this, you need to make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that are being spoken but, more importantly, understand the complete message being communicated behind, which then brings us to the next best practice ‘Listening Effectively’.
As you listen to what is being taught/ spoken, it is easy to drift off and lose the thread of what is being said. If you do, you risk missing important information or an important piece of fact. To avoid this, learn to listen effectively and with a purpose. This is what it means to be an Active Listener. Use this to your advantage by evaluating what is being said and trying to anticipate what will be said next (without losing track of what is being said). Then, consistently take good written notes about what is spoken.
Because everyone has different learning styles, each person tends to stick to a particular note-taking method once they find the right one.
Generally speaking, there are 5 note-taking methods that are considered to give the best overview of the note-taking process. They are:
a) The outline method – structure your notes in the form of an outline by using bullet points to represent different topics and their subtopics
b) The Cornell method – unique system of note taking that allows you to visually organise your notes and quiz yourself on the material later on without making flash cards
c) The boxing method – notes that relate to one specific subject are grouped together in a box with the title at the top
d) The charting method – uses charts to condense and organise notes
e) The mapping method – a graphical representation of information, ideas, facts, and concepts
One tip for choosing which method to use is by judging the types of lectures/ meetings that you have. For example, the Cornell method can be the best method if you like to make a note of any questions that arise while you are listening to your lecturer, while mind mapping can be an especially useful method if you are a visual learner or you do not know the lecturer’s teaching style/ speaker’s presentation style.
At the end of each lecture, make sure to have a clear structure such as underlined headings, legible handwriting and organised notes that you can revise later. Do not simply take your notes and then file them away, forgetting about them.
The best use of your notes is to read over them a short time after note-taking and create some follow-up questions, or potential test questions. This will help you to use the information effectively and it will stay in your memory for a longer time.
In summary, choosing the best note-taking technique is more than merely writing down the information you are presented with. You must have the right mindset, listen effectively, select the method most suited for your needs and write it down in an efficient and organised way.
By using these best practices, you will transform your note-taking to the next level – simpler, informative and easy to understand notes. This results naturally in performing better academically or professionally. Good luck!