Strategies for note taking

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1 Why are notes important? Notes help you locate the information you need faster. Strategies for note taking why notes are important This is because a set of well-organized notes will allow you to use headings, subheadings, and other similar markers to find the notes you need for a specific topic without looking through your entire notebook or your entire textbook. Notes can help you learn the information you need to learn. This is because most people have a much easier time learning information when they can hear it, see it, feel it, and apply it. This means that it will typically be easier for you to learn the information that you need to learn when you can hear it in class, see it on the board, write it down, and use your notes to complete your homework. Notes help you review the information you need to review. This is because a good set of notes will allow you to boil a subject down to its key points, so you can review those points later. Some classes and/or professions will require you to take notes. This is because there are teachers and professors that will grade the notes that you take in their classes and will administer open-book tests that will allow you to use your notes (and, let s face it, you don t want to fail an open-book test because you didn t have any notes), and also positions in certain occupations, such as nursing or law, that will actually require you to keep notes to meet your ethical and/or legal obligations. Note taking strategies The abreviation technique One of the techniques that a number of individuals use to save time is the abbreviation technique. The abbreviation technique is a note taking method in which an individual uses abbreviations and/or symbols to represent some of the words that he or she commonly uses in his or her notes. For example, b/c is a common abbreviation for the word because and esp. is a common abbreviation for the word especially. Abbreviations can be very helpful because they allow an individual to take notes much faster, and there are actually a number of professions that use abbreviations in their note taking to ensure that there is enough time to note all of the details that they need to note. You may, as a result, be able to use abbreviations to speed up your note taking significantly. However, it is important to note that there are a couple of things that you need to consider when you re using abbreviations. First, try to make sure that you are only using abbreviations for the words that you use frequently. For example, if you re taking an anatomy class in which you have to write the word human on a regular basis, you may want to use the abbreviation hu. for the word human. However, if you re taking an English class in which you don t need to write the word human very often, you may want to write the word out. This is because it is very easy to get confused when you re abbreviating almost every word. Secondly, try to find abbreviations that actually make sense to you. For example, if it s obvious to you that b/c is the abbreviation for because, b/c may be a good abbreviation to use. However, if you look at the abbreviation b/c and you have no idea what it means, you may want to use bec., cause, or another similar abbreviation that you actually recognize. 1 Strategies for note taking

2 The shorter sentence method The shorter sentence technique is a note taking method in which an individual uses abbreviations, shorthand, symbols, and other similar methods to record the information that the individual needs to record in the shortest way possible. For example, if your professor is talking about the different types of soldiers in the Civil War, you might want to write the sentence A dragoon was a Civil War soldier that acted as a member of the infantry and a member of the cavalry. However, this sentence is a little long, and you may not have enough time to write it. This means that you may want to know how you can express the same information in a shorter sentence. If you need to shorten a sentence, there are three ways in which you can typically do it. First, you can use abbreviations or symbols. Abbreviations are letters that represent a longer word (see the abbreviations article for more information), and symbols are pictures that represent a word. For example, if you used abbreviations and symbols for the sentence in the example above, you might write, A dragoon = civ. war sold. that acted as a member of the infantry + a member of the cavalry. Secondly, you can try to eliminate some of the unnecessary words in the sentence to shorten the sentence. For example, if you took the sentence from the abbreviation example above, you might write, A dragoon = civ. war sold. that acted as infantry + cavalry. Finally, if the sentence is still too long after you have used abbreviations, symbols, and eliminated all of unnecessary words, you can remove the vowels to shorten the sentence further. For example, if you took the sentence from the example above, you might write, Dragoon = cv. wr. sld. that acted as infantry + cavalry. Mapping Mapping is a note taking strategy in which a note taker attempts to link a series of related ideas together by drawing lines from the main topic of the discussion to the subtopics that are related to that main topic, lines from the subtopics to the major details that are related to those subtopics, and lines from the major details to the minor details that are related to those major details. This strategy can be very helpful when your teacher or professor is trying to teach a lot of information in a single class or when you re not sure how or what your teacher or professor is going to teach. It is important to note, however, that there are a couple of things that you should know about mapping before you use it. First, to make a map, you have to be able to distinguish the major topics from the subtopics, major details, and minor details that support them. This is important because a map is supposed to show you the relationship between all of the key points that you are recording, and you have to be able to distinguish the information that is important from the information that is less important to determine where each of the lines on your map should be drawn. For example, if your teacher or professor is discussing the major battles of World War II, you may have to take notes on the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Midway, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the location in which each of these battles took place, the date on which each battle took place, the parties that were involved in the conflict, and other similar information. To make a map of these notes, you would write Major Battles of World War II as the main topic, write each of the three battles somewhere on the page around the main topic, and draw three lines from the main topic to each of the battles (the subtopics). You would then write and draw a line connecting the date, the location, and the parties that were involved to the appropriate battle Secondly, it is important to remember that you may need to create more than one map in some cases. This is important because a teacher or professor may cover more than one main topic in a class, and you have to be able to tell when something is related and when it s not. 2

3 Outlining Outlining is a note taking strategy in which a note taker attempts to separate the main topics, subtopics, and major details that he or she needs to take notes on with indents, dashes, roman numerals, numbers, letters, and/or spaces. This strategy can be very helpful when your teacher or professor is trying to describe something very slowly or if you re very good at distinguishing topics from subtopics and subtopics from details. It is important to note, however, that there are several things that you should know about outlining before you use it. First, to make an outline, you have to be able to distinguish the major topics from the subtopics, major details, and minor details that support each major topic very quickly. This is important because an outline is, in effect, a list of all of the key points that are related to a topic, but the information in that list is separated by indents, letters, and numbers so that it is easier for you to see the relationship between each key point and determine how important each key point is. This means that you have to be able to listen to your instructor and determine whether a particular piece of information is related to the topics that he or she has already discussed, determine the relationship between each piece of information and the other topics, and make it clear how important each piece of information is. Outlining, as a result, can be difficult when you re pressed for time. Secondly, if you re trying to outline the key points of a lecture, it is usually a good idea to leave some extra space after each of the major topics and/or subtopics that your teacher or professor covers. This is important because your teacher or professor may present information about some of the topics that he or she has already covered after you have already begun taking notes on another topic. It is, as a result, important for you to make sure that you have enough room to add information later if you teacher or professor expands on some of the points that he or she has already covered. Third, you don t have to use indents and dashes, roman numerals, numbers, letters, and/ or spaces in every outline. However, it will make it easier for you to read your outline if you use indents and other identifiers as well. The flashcard method The flashcard method is a note taking strategy in which a note taker uses index cards instead of paper. In this method, a note taker takes a pile of index cards (typically 3 x 5 index cards, but larger cards will give you more space to write) and writes a question, key term, topic, subtopic, or other major piece of information on the front of the card. The note taker then writes the answer to the question or information about the topic or key term on the back of the card. This strategy can be very helpful when your teacher or professor is trying to teach you a lot of key terms and concepts, your teacher or professor is trying to describe something very slowly, or you are trying to study a subject that you typically have difficulty with. It is important to note, however, that there are a couple of things that you should know about the flashcard method before you use it. First, the flashcard method can be very helpful in a slow moving class, but it may not be the easiest way for you to take notes in a class that is moving quickly. This is because you have to make sure that each question, key term, or topic has its own flashcard, and it may be difficult for you to keep up with your teacher or professor if you have to switch from one flashcard to another all the time. This means that, if your teacher is covering a lot of information, you may want to use a different note taking method and then copy your notes onto flashcards after class. Secondly, flashcards tend to take up a lot more space than some of the other note taking methods that you may use. This is important because you may end up with a pile of flashcards for a topic that would take up only a couple of pages in a notebook. This means that flashcards, while they are easy to arrange, are more difficult to store and, 3

4 therefore, more difficult to keep organized than standard notes. However, you may be able to keep your flashcards organized if you number the bottom of each card and store them together in a case or hole punch them after class and put them in a binder or on a metal ring. This will help you ensure that you don t end up losing some of your flashcards. The two column method The Two-Column Method is a note taking strategy in which a note taker draws a line down the center of the page to split each page into two columns. The first column, which is located on the left hand side of the page, is for all of the major topics, subtopics, and key terms that you learn on a particular day. The second column, which is located on the right hand side of the page, is for all of the details and key points that you have learned about the topics, subtopics, and/or key terms that you have written in the first column. This strategy can be very helpful when your teacher or professor is trying to teach you a lot of information in a single class or is trying to teach you a lot of key terms and concepts. Write now, organize later Organization is extremely important in note taking, and you have to make sure that you are organized to take good notes. However, it is important to note that there isn t always enough time for you to organize your notes in class as much as you might like. In fact, there s a pretty good chance that you will encounter a situation at some point in which you simply don t have the time to take notes in an organized fashion. If this is the case and you find yourself in a situation in which you have to throw organization to the wind, there are several things that you should remember. First, it is important to remember that your goal is to take notes on the key points and not to transcribe everything that your teacher or professor says word for word. This is important because you will have to use your notes to study and/or find information at some point, and it will be significantly more difficult for you to use your notes if you can t tell whether the information in your notes is actually important. This means that you have to make sure that you are only copying the information that appears to be important, so you don t end up wasting your time reorganizing information and/or reviewing information that you should have never taken notes on in the first place. Secondly, if you find yourself in a situation in which you simply don t have time to organize everything, try to make sure that your notes are still legible. This is important because a lot of people get so caught up in trying to take notes on all of the information that a teacher or professor covers that they forget that they actually need to be able to read them later. This means that it is important for you to regularly check your notes as you re writing them to make sure that you can still read your own handwriting and that your notes aren t all bunched together. Third, try to make sure that you go back and reorganize your notes right after school. This is important because you will probably have to use abbreviations, symbols, shorter sentences, and other similar techniques to note everything that you need to note. This means that you may want to rewrite your notes as soon as you get home, so you can make sure that all of the concepts that you have taken notes on are in a logical order, that your notes are actually legible, and that you will actually be able to understand all of the shorthand that you have used in your notes when you need to review them later. Finding key points in your textbook Your textbook, especially when a section of it has been assigned as homework, may contain important information as well. This means that you may, as a result, want to know some of the ways that you can find the key points in your textbook if you have to take notes on it after, or in some cases, during class. If you re having trouble finding the key points in your textbook, there are three different groups of signals that may be able to help. 4

5 The first are the section descriptors. Section descriptors include captions, chapter titles, headings, subheadings, and any other signals that are used to mark a section. These signals are used to mark important sections or important images, and the information or images that follow these elements will usually identify the main topics and subtopics that you need to describe in your notes. This means that you should record all of the section descriptors because each of these descriptors will usually tell you what the chapter or section is about. In fact, you should not only record the descriptors, but also try to record a very brief summary of each of the paragraphs that follow the descriptors because the information in these paragraphs will usually describe the major concept that the chapter or section covers. The second are the key word signals. Key word signals include bold type, italics, glossaries, end of chapter lists, and other signals that indicate that a word may be important. These signals are used to mark words that you need to know, and the information that appears right before or right after a word that is in bold type or a word that is italicized will typically help you understand what the word means. This means that you may want to record each of these words and the information that immediately precedes or follows each word in your notes. The third are the graphic signals. Graphic signals include charts, diagrams, graphs, maps, tables, time lines, and other graphic representations of important information, and these graphic representations typically contain information that you need to record in your notes. Finding key points in a lecture It is important to remember that to take good notes you have to take a subject and boil it down to its key points. Unfortunately, boiling a subject down to its key points is not always a simple task because some subjects have a lot of important information, while other subjects have a lot of fluff. This means that, for you to take good notes, you have to be able to distinguish the important information from the information that really doesn t matter at all. This, of course, can be difficult, but there are several different ways that you can make it easier to find the key points in a lecture. The first way that you can make it easier is to listen for verbal cues. Verbal cues are usually words or phrases that might signify that your teacher or professor is about to discuss something that you need to know. For example, if your professor says, This can occur as a result of, this is important, this will be on the test, the best way to do this is, to do that, you have to do this, the reason for this is, you should remember that, or any other similar phrase, you should take notes on the information that your professor is presenting. In fact, if your professor uses the words advantage, best, disadvantage, due, effective, important, largest, major reason, remember, result, type, or any other similar word, the information is probably not only important, but also probably going to be on your next test. It is important to note, however, that some of your professor s verbal cues may not be as apparent, and you may want to listen for changes in your professor s tone or for concepts that your professor is explaining more slowly in addition to the typical verbal cues that you may encounter. The second way that you can make it easier is to listen for concepts that appeared in your homework. This is because the concepts that you learned in your previous night s homework are typically important, and the concepts that are covered in both your class and your homework are extremely important. In fact, if your homework required you to read a handout or read a section of your textbook, you can typically expect some of the major concepts that were covered on the handout or in the section to appear in your next lecture (especially when you encounter concepts that are underlined, italicized, in bold type, or in the chapter summary of your textbook). 5

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