Notes – how should I take notes in college?
Notes are the general term for information that record in class/lecture that represent what ideas, methods, answers, highlights, diagrams, and/or citations were presented during class time. The goal is that your notes capture the ideas so you can review what happened during the class in order to learn. The trick with note taking in class is what to write down?
Approach 1 – Everything
The most common technique I see is trying to write everything seen and heard. The assumption is if you can write down everything that is written/discussed in class you have captured all the information and can later decipher it. This approach could work, but the key step is deciphering it later, which should be done ten to fifteen minutes after the class. The deciphering problem is reorganizing the notes into something you can understand and that captures the main points of the lecture. That process, unfortunately, is both rarely done and hard to do. Also, the trick in class is to hear as well as capture what is presented, and this is very difficult if you are stuck in the task of writing down what you see.
Approach 2 – Note Taking Methods
There are a number of systems that researchers and educators have created to help you organize your notes. These include methods such as Cornell and Mapping methods. I have a preference for mapping techniques since they can be implemented fast and have a visual component, which I prefer.
Note taking methods are useful in different situations, but they do not necessarily solve the problem of what to write down. Instead, they provide a means to organize your notes so that it is easier to review and take them.
Define the goals and create your process
You need to understand why you are taking notes. In a math class, your notes will have two major components which include the mathematical idea, definition, and properties and definitions for example problems. In an English class, you will be noting arguments, interpretations, and citations related to the material.
Not only do you need to know why you are noting different things for later recall, you need to come to the lecture prepared (another student rarity). If you have an accompanying textbook, lecture slides, or class topic, then you have access to enough information to come into the lecture with a good idea of what will be covered and how. This means you have a good idea of how to organize your notes as related to the idea. If none of these resources are available, then ask your professor what will be covered in the next lecture. I can’t imagine they would keep these ideas secret.
During the lecture you need to listen. Professors typically make statements such as “and this is really important”. Statements like that mean that the stuff coming next is highlighted.
Finally, notes need to be reviewed and revised. This should happen as close to the class time as possible. As time passes, what you learned will be lost.
In my book, I make a specific recommendation for the one piece of technology I think is invaluable. But in general, technology can also help you capture class more efficiently. Ask if technology can be used, but keep in mind knowing the goals, being prepared, listening carefully, and reviewing material are all necessary regardless of how good the technology is at capturing the material. That is until Johny Mnemonic technology comes along.