Taking Quality Notes

Listening and note taking go hand-in-hand. Mastery of these skills can help you earn higher grades. Taking an active role in your classes – asking questions and participating in discussions- will help you listen better and take more meaningful notes.

Listening exercise

Ever wonder why it is easier to learn the words of a song yet you may find it difficult to remember the important ideas from a class lecture? We remember songs more easily because they follow a rhythm. Class instruction generally is not set to music. Most forgetting takes place within 24 hours after you see or hear something, so how can you enhance your ability to retain class information? Follow these steps before class preparation, during class, and after class review.

Before class preparation

Take these active learning steps to make your listening and note taking more successful.

  • DO the assigned reading – Completing the assigned reading will help you better understand and listen to the lecture. Your notes will also be more organized because you already have the background information.
  • Conduct a pre-class review – review prior notes and read the chapter summaries of the required reading assignments. Look for sections you have highlighted as well as main headings.

During class

Be ready for the message and keep an open mind.

  1. Listen to main concepts, not just to figures and facts.
  2. Listen for new ideas.
  3. Minimize distractions. Sit in front of class, away from doors and windows.
  4. Decide if concept is not important, important or very important. If concept is not important, don’t write it down, if the concept is very important, write down and put a star or other symbol to designate importance.
  5. Ask questions.
  6. Be alert to repetition.
  7. Watch the board or overheads.

Note-Taking Techniques

he format and structure of your notes is more important than how fast you write. The following techniques can improve the effectiveness of your notes.

Cornell Method

  • Draw a line down the length of your note taking paper 1 ½ inches from the left edge.
  • Write your notes on the right side of the line.
  • Write key terms, concepts, and questions on the left side of the line.

Outline Method

  • Use a standard Roman numeral outline form to categorize and organize notes.
  • Illustrates points and supporting ideas.

Styles (Helpful When…)

  • Outline Style- each point has a separate number or letter
    • The presented information is organized well
    • Information flows from main ideas to support detail
  • Phrase Style- jot down key phrases
    • Lecture presented like storytelling
    • Lecture is verbal with little written information or images
  • Vocabulary Style- focus on new vocabulary
    • There are several new terms in each lecture (as with many introductory courses)
    • New vocabulary needs to be integrated with key concepts or information presented in the text book
  • Drawing Style- include rough sketches in your notes with a written description
    • Courses include diagrams, formulas/ problems/ graphs, drawings or charts
    • Don’t skip over these images! These representations are most important because they condense and summarize information that is difficult to write out!

Note taking Tips

  1. Start each lecture on a new page.
  2. Write down the main points and concepts rather than trying to copy down everything that is said.
  3. Use pictures and diagrams
    • Make relationships visual
    • Copy all diagrams
  4. Use a three ring binder
    • Pages can be removed, spread out for study, and organized.
    • Insert handouts.
    • Insert notes taken from the book.
    • Insert notes from class mates.
  5. Use only one side of the paper.
  6. Label and date notes
  7. Use graphic signals
    • Stars (*) and underlining indicate importance
      • “You will see this again”
      • “This could be on the test”
      • “Going back to this topic from yesterday’s class”
    • Arrows connect ideas
    • Question marks indicate confusing points and areas for follow-up.
  8. Use indentations and spacing to help organize information
    • Write lists down the page, not across
    • Indentations can be used to separate examples from concepts
  9. Pay special attention at the end of the lecture.
    • A lot of information may be given in the last 5-10 minutes
    • If there is a review of material presented that day, this is information that will likely appear on the test

After Class

  1. Re-write notes the same day as the class.
    • Assists in learning the information
    • Organizes material
  2. Fill in gaps in notes
    • Consult classmates notes
    • Ask instructor
    • Look in book
  3. Review the previous class notes just before next class session.
    • Puts you in the right mind-set.
    • Links old material to new.