In college, I was always the nerd with the perfect notes. Sometimes they were even color coded. Some people laughed, but come test time, I was suddenly very popular. Everyone knew that taking good notes lead to good grades. Note taking is a very important skill; luckily, it’s also a skill that can be learned pretty quickly.
The first step towards taking good notes is showing up for class prepared. You should be reasonably well rested and alert; taking notes while sleeping is rather difficult. Fortunately, the very act of note taking can help keep you awake. You also need to make sure that you are caught up with all the assigned readings for the class. Otherwise, you may not be able to understand the lecture, and your notes might end up being a morass of muddled phrases and questions.
Make sure that you are able to hear the professor and see any visual aids that are used. This may mean sitting towards the front of the class. Also, sit away from classmates who are prone to chatting during class. If you are unable to hear the professor and cannot move any closer, politely ask the professor to speak a little louder.
During a lecture, write down as much as possible. If you do not understand something, write down what was said along with your question; this way, you will remember to ask for help later. If you are not sure whether or not a point is worth writing down, just go ahead and write it. Do not assume that you will just remember what was said later. It’s amazing how much the human mind can forget.
If the professor moves through the lectures very quickly, you will need to learn to write very quickly. Abbreviations can be indispensable. Do not worry about writing complete sentences or making your notes neat; this can be done later. Also, do not be afraid to ask the professor to repeat or rephrase something.
If, even after you have worked on your speed writing skills, you still have a difficult time taking notes during class, ask your professor if it would be alright for you to tape the class. If the professor permits this, record the lesson using a mini audio recorder. During class, you will be able to listen attentively without worrying about taking notes, although you will still need to copy any charts or other visual aids that are presented.
After class, review your notes or audio recording as soon as possible. If some of your notes are close to illegible, or if part of the recorded lecture is difficult to hear, a fresh memory of the class will prove very helpful. Rewrite your notes, making sure that they are very well organized and easy to understand. Even if your original notes are not that bad, the very process of rewriting them will help you remember the material.
When rewriting your notes, use whatever methods work best for you. Color coding, based on topic, degree of importance, or any other system is very helpful for some people. You could also arrange the notes into a flow chart. Or, you might decide to turn your notes into flash cards. Experiment with different systems and do whatever helps you retain and
understand the information.
You should also try to share notes with your classmates. There’s a good chance that your classmates caught pieces of information that you missed, just as you probably picked up some points that they missed. Sharing notes will provide you with the opportunity to make sure that everyone understands every single point. When forming a note sharing group, try to work with people who also take good notes, rather than people who just want to use your notes. Everyone, yourself included, should benefit from the note sharing.
Taking notes is important for two reasons: you learn the information while taking notes, and you create a good study guide. Although sharing notes is beneficial, do not become dependent on other people’s notes. These may contain errors, leave out important information, or be difficult to understand.