I’m a big fan of taking notes but not because I think they’re fun. In fact, note taking is pretty boring. But it cuts down on the time that I have to study because I’ve already synthesized all of the information. Rather than learning new concepts during my study sessions, I review to make sure I have a good understanding of the concepts. So let me show you how I make sure my notes are a tool rather than a waste of time.
1// Decide on the Method
When I say “method”, I’m really referring to the medium that your notes are going to be in.
Are you going to handwrite your notes? Or type them up? Maybe you have a touch screen that can convert your handwriting to typed text.
From a purely science perspective, writing your notes by hand does have a significant benefit than typing this. If you’re like me and actually want to see the proof, Psychological Science published a study in 2014 that showed a correlation between remembering information and handwriting notes. NPR’s article did a great job of summarizing the study to be less…dense (as scholarly information usually is).
If you have handwriting that you can’t read, using a writing to text software on a tablet might be more beneficial to you. And if you have that professor who insists on talking as if the apocalypse will happen at any second, typing your notes is just fine.
2// Have a Format
Regardless of whether your writing or typing your notes, formatting your notes is an integral part to good notes. How you choose to make your notes look is either going to make your notes really easy to review or a complete and utter pain.
I’m a fan of using a hierarchy system that involves symbols to indicate section titles and then the notes under each title. Sometimes I even have notes that fall underneath the note above it. So that it looks something like this:
This are the same symbols I use when writing my notes. You can also do the same thing when typing your notes by inserting bullet points and the “tab” key when you want to create indents. This system works fantastically for classes where there are very clear headers like history and occasionally science.
In more math based classes, I advise completely abandoning this idea of hierarchy and going with something that’s a bit more free-form. In these types of classes, I generally have the equations that are most important written in large font or I box it in. Either way, my notes revolve more around practice problems rather than around the notes themselves.
3// Short hand
Abbreviations are key!
Abbreviate everything and anything. If I have to write a word more than 3 times, it generally gets some sort of abbreviation.
A few of my friends write down their abbreviations at the top of their notes for the major topics. But there’s no point in doing that for things that use extremely often. Trust me, the more you use them, the easier it’ll be.
Fragments are also your best friend. In the words of my AP US History teacher, there is never a reason to write anything in a complete sentence. And I’m inclined to agree.
It’s much faster to write whatever your professor is saying and, more importantly, it forces you to summarize information as it’s being said.
4// Highlight and Colors
Not going to lie, I hate highlighting. I try to avoid it whenever possible. But I know that it works wonders for some people.
Color code things like dates, definitions, equations, and important people. If you’re doing something like annotating, highlight things that interested you or shocked you. I’ve heard people who highlight things that they have questions over and when they get an answer from a professor, they write their response in a pen in the same color as the highlighter.
I generally recommend using only one pen color, two at the most. Otherwise, you’re probably spending too much time focused on the colors instead of on what your reading or what your professor is saying. Of course, you can go back later and use colors to create distinction between topics. Or you can use multiple colors to create connections which is especially useful for when you’re studying.
Sometimes you will get distracted. It’s inevitable.
When you do, try to fight it. Seriously. Stay focused because anything you miss might be valuable information.
But occasionally, you’ll get so distracted that you won’t be able to take notes. And in those moments, my only solution is to allow yourself to take a moment to be distracted. Doodle in the margins. Write song lyrics. Or even start a short story.
Only do this for a few moments. Set a small limit for yourself. Maybe only 3 lines of lyrics or story. And maybe a doodle that’s only in the little corner in the left. Then get back to it.
To summarize: regardless of whether you handwrite or type your notes, format them based on what’s most effective and use a combo of abbreviations and fragments to make things clear and concise. Keep distractions to a minimum by using the least amount of colors possible and trying your hardest to stay focused.
I hope this post has been helpful in getting you to take the best notes possible. And maybe they’ll even cut down your study time.
Do you prefer typing or writing your notes? Why? What formatting do you use? What tips would you add to this list?