With midterm season coming to a close, finals week will be here sooner than you think. As you’re preparing to end the semester on a high note, be sure you’re getting all that you can out of your lectures and discussions in class.
To help you out, here are some tips to sharpen your note-taking skills from experienced Hillsdale students.
It is important that your notes are clear and navigable. A good way to practice this is to take as few notes as you can while still making sure you get the essentials down.
Senior English major Lara Forsythe said that when she was a freshman, she took as many notes as she could.
“I used to take way too many notes,” Forsythe said. “Unless you’re sure you’re going through your notes later, just copying everything down is not very sustainable.”
Forsythe said to fix this, she writes only the important points.
“Be more picky,” Forsythe said. “It helps you listen better— you’re processing it and deciding if you should write it down.”
Another easy way to take more efficient notes is to abbreviate. Senior art and English major Katie Davenport said she abbreviates names with one or two letters and shortens other words by writing only four or five letters.
Making your notes uniform makes the best notes stand apart from the rest.
Davenport uses an outline system for her notes so that she can keep her information in a neat way that shows how information is related to other information.
Senior economics and math major Duncan Voyles uses a different outline.
“At the top of the notes, I put a topic,” said Voyles, “and then break it into squigglies, then sub-dots [which are] indented, and then personal anecdotes in the margins.”
For math major Josh Pautz, notes come in two colors. He keeps critically important information in purple and less important information in blue. He keeps comments and asides from the professor off to the side bracketed in either purple or blue to indicate their relative importance.
Another way to organize your notes is in the Cornell Method.
To use this method, create two columns in your notes. In the right column, write all the notes as you normally would. In the left column pretend that you are playing Jeopardy and write a question that corresponds to the material directly next to it. Alternately, you can write down a few words that describe what the topic is.
Review Your Notes
Whether you transcribe each word your professor utters or you write two sentences all class, and whether you have beautiful notes or a heap of words piled on top of each other, your notes will mean nothing if you do not review them.
If you use the Cornell Method, you have a study guide built into your notes. Read the questions in the left-hand column to yourself and do your best to answer them.
In classes where you must memorize a lot of information, one easy way to keep track of the information of your notes is with flash cards.
When Davenport’s classes require her taking many detailed notes of her classes, she reviews them by typing all her notes and studying those.
Forsythe said she makes her notes beautiful so that she will want to study.
“Have really neat handwriting,” she advised.
She also recommended using beautiful notebooks that will last so that you will treat them better. After all, she said she wants to keep her important notebooks for a long time to come so that she will continue learning from them.
Note-taking is an art, a skill, and most importantly, necessary for success in your college career. The most important thing is to find something that works for you and stick with it. If you want to tweak it, go ahead and try. After all, the only thing worse than bad note-taking is doing note-thing about it.