Even though it is common for teachers to rely on educational websites, handouts, and guided notes from slide presentations with only a few pieces of information left for students to fill in, it’s still important for students to take good notes. Unfortunately, taking high quality notes isn’t something most of us do naturally. It’s something that you have to learn and to practice in order to get good at it. Taking notes might initially seem simple—just write down a shortened version of what you hear or read in class or in books—yet it’s actually quite complex. Not only are there several methods of note-taking, but there are also a number of thinking skills that have to be used simultaneously: summarization, evaluation, and organization. In other words, those who develop strong note-taking skills also develop strong thinking skills. To learn more about why note-taking is important and how to get better at it, read on.
Why Students Should Take Good Notes
Learning doesn’t happen when a student is passive. If all you do is stare at pages and screens while spoken words drift in and out of your awareness, then it’s likely only a small portion of that information will be absorbed. So, instead of being passive, be active. The best way to be an active learner is to physically write things down, as the act of putting pen to paper (something that requires the use of your mind and your body) helps your brain create new connections and memories. Furthermore, once you have an initial set of notes, the process of reviewing and, in some cases, rewriting them can enhance your understanding and recall of what you’ve learned. Convinced that note-taking is a valuable academic and lifelong skill? Great! Next, you need to know how to take good notes.
Before: How to Prepare for Good Note-Taking
The process of taking high quality notes begins way before you are sitting at a desk with a pencil poised above a page. In fact, to take and maintain good notes you will need to first gather the right supplies. You’ll need pens and pencils that write smoothly and erase well, notebooks or paper to write on, highlighters and sticky notes to add extra thoughts or emphasis, and folders or binders to store your notes in an organized way. You can also use devices like laptops and phones to assist in your note-taking, but they shouldn’t be the primary way you take notes. As with most things, balance is key. So, your approach to taking notes should rely on a mix of handwritten and digital methods.
During: What Are the Best Note-Taking Methods
When it comes to how to take notes, there are general tips and specific strategies. Although not every strategy will work for every student, these general tips should work for everyone.
- Don’t transcribe. Instead of worrying about writing word for word what is being said, focus on key terms and phrases and paraphrase or summarize as much as possible in ways that are accurate and will make sense to you.
- Use codes and symbols. Develop a system with abbreviations (e.g. b/c, w/) and symbols (e.g. arrow, + sign, = sign) to cut down on what you write, and use highlighters and a color code (e.g. green for main ideas, pink for important details).
- Identify what’s important or confusing. Use a ? mark or write questions next to what you don’t understand (to review or ask about later) and use ! mark next to something your teacher repeats a lot or indicates is important.
More specific note-taking strategies range from the highly structured to the highly visual. Students should experiment with the different methods to figure out those that work best for them, which can be one or a combination of methods.
- Outline Method: Outlines are a simple and structured form of note-taking. They follow a hierarchy, starting with a main idea and followed by subtopics and supporting details that are indented. You can use roman numerals or bullet points.
- Cornell Method: A little more complex than outlines, the Cornell note-taking method is considered one of the best options because it facilitates higher-level thinking and review. To take Cornell notes, divide your paper into a block across the entire top of the page (for the date and title of the lesson) with two columns below—the left column should be narrower (for key words and questions) than the right column (for the main body of your notes). Leave space at the bottom of the page for a summary block.
- Graphic Method: This is a more visual note-taking strategy and it is easier and more beneficial to use after taking initial notes as a way to organize and represent the content in a neat and engaging way. Charts give your notes some basic visual flare by putting information into groups of columns and rows often for the purposes of comparison or categorization. You can also create mind maps that have a central idea in an inner circle with lines connecting to supporting ideas in smaller circles.
After: What to Do with Your Notes
Once you have taken your notes in class, you should make a plan to review them sometime soon afterward (at least 24 hours) to identify any areas that you need extra clarification and to reinforce what you learned. When you review your notes, it’s also a good time to make them more user-friendly. That means if your handwriting was messy or if you stuffed some pages into a folder in a rush, you should rewrite the notes and safely place them in the correct location. The key is not to abandon or neglect your notes until right before a quiz or test.
How A+ Can Help
Good note-taking is a skill, and like most skills it’s something that has to be learned and practiced. By working with an A+ Executive Function Coach, students can discover what is preventing them from taking high quality notes and what note-taking strategies work best for them. Taking good notes isn’t just for kids or exclusively for school either. It’s a lifelong skill that comes in handy when you receive training or attend meetings at work or when you want to learn new skills as an adult. If you are a student or you know a student who needs help with this essential skill, let us know. Whether a student is struggling to take, find, or review their notes, it doesn’t have to stay that way.
At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, we can be reached at 215-886-9188 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.