Taking Best Notes

Taking the Best Reading/Lecture Notes

This method includes three main steps, what you do BEFORE class, DURING class and AFTER class.It will not be as effective unless you do all three steps.

Before Class

1. Read the assignment. This means first previewing or surveying the chapter to see what it’s about and how it’s organized, and then reading the chapter. You should also look over your notes from the previous lecture

2. Take Reading notes: As you read you should take notes.

Next, you should take a sheet of paper turned on its side and draw a vertical line from top to bottom. At the top on the left side, write the subject and what you read, and the date.  (History chapter 3, 10/3/14,  for example).  Summarize your reading notes in rough outline form on the left.  Include the main ideas and most important information. You could also use a Concept Map.

The right side of the page will be used for lecture notes.

3. Create a Vocabulary List: In addition to your notes on the content, you should have a sheet of paper for important vocabulary words. Understanding the words makes it possible to understand the main ideas. Write the words as you read and write the  definition if it is in the reading. If they are not defined in the reading, check a glossary if there is one, check the index,  or look them up in a dictionary or online.When you understand the words well, you might want to re-read the section where you found the word and see if it makes better sense.

4 .Create a Question List: Another sheet of paper is for Questions. You may have a few questions even before you begin reading. As you read, other questions will come to mind. Active Learning involves asking and answering your own questions. You might leave spaces for answers or number your questions and then write the question number below with the answer.  Write any answers you find as you read.

During Class: Taking Notes

1. Be physically prepared. This was described under good listening. You should be wide awake, arrive early, select a seat where you are not going to be distracted, get your materials out, and go over your reading notes and the notes from the last lecture.

2. Be mentally prepared to listen attentively. Sit up straight, watch the teacher, show interest, and avoid mind-wandering.

Sometimes a professor will begin or end with Practical Information. Write all information about test dates and what will included on the test. Write all information about papers or projects that you need to know. Write any changed or additions to assignments. You need a black sheet of paper for this kind of information. If you have an assignment notebook, you could use that.

3. As you listen, compare what you hear in the lecture with your reading notes.

If the professor says something that’s already in your reading notes, simply underline it. If the professor emphasizes this as especially important, underline it twice. If he adds other important information on the topic add that and draw a line to connect it to the earlier notes. You now have complete information while other students are writing frantically.

NOTE: This system only works if the lectures  and the reading are on the same topic. If they are completely different, there is no need to include reading and lecture notes on the same sheet of paper.

If the professor discusses topics not in the reading, take careful notes. You can’t depend on your book for this information and these topics often are covered on tests.

If the professor introduces new terms, at least write the word. You can probably find the definition later. IF the professor dictates the definition slowly for students to write it down be sure to use his words and learn this definition well. When a professor defines a word for you, you know it’s important.

In reading notes and lecture notes, most students find it helpful to use some symbols, but don’t use so many that you forget what they were supposed to mean. Common symbols are below:

For showing Main Ideas, I underline all main ideas once, and when I’m sure which ones are most important, I underline those twice.

* important      **very important          ? I have a question       ??  I’m really confused

up arrow – increasing      down arrow – decreasing     horizontal arrow – leads to

def – definition     ex – example      w/o  – without     w/ -with

If the professor says “I think,” or “In my opinion…” include it in notes marked “THINKS” You might want to check later for other possible opinions. When the professor used the words “I think” or “Some people Think” do not make the mistake of treating these as facts.

Verbal clues:  There are three reasons why…  (Make sure you listen for all three reasons.)  He might say, “First,…, Then…., and Finally.”

The professor might say, “An especially important fact is ..” . or “I find it very interesting that…”

“Many people believe…. but recent research shows that….”

A Professor sometimes begins with a question. Write it down. These questions often show up on tests.

These and many other similar clues tell you the professor thinks these are especially important. Be sure they are in your notes.

  • Visual clues: Professors may act excited. They may step closer to the class. They might show you a model or diagram.
  • Voice clues: It is important if their voice gets louder. They are trying to get your attention. Sometimes, the voice getting softer, like they are sharing a secret with you, also indicates it is important.
  • Stated clues. These are hard to miss. The professor says, “This is extremely important. Be sure you write this down.” or  “This information will be on the test.”
  • Written clues: Anything the professors write on the chalkboard is important. If they take the time to write it down, they want you to write it down too. Any diagrams drawn on the board, means it is important. If you know it is exactly like the one in your book, be sure to study it. It you aren’t sure, copy it carefully.

After Class

There is no reason to take excellent notes if you aren’t going to use them.

After the lecture, you should fill in answers your questions if any were answered. And now you should have new questions to add to the list. It doesn’t have to be a large number of questions but they should be good questions.

Review your class notes soon, preferably within as hour. You may be able to fill in some information you didn’t include before because you ran out of time. You may want to highlight or underline a few items  you really want to remember.

Review your reading and class notes again, not long before going to bed. Sleeping with this information in your mind will help move the information into your long-term memory.

Students often ask if they should rewrite their notes. The answer is -” Yes, if you need to.” My suggestion is that you rewrite you notes neatly in outline form, possibly combining lecture and reading notes – for the first week or two. This exercise might help  you learn how to take such well written notes that you no longer need to rewrite. But in the really difficult classes, you might decide to continue for the entire semester.

Instead of Rewriting Notes, you might find it more helpful to reorganize the information in other verbal or visual forms. Write a summary. Make a timeline. Create a Concept Map. Do a Compare and Contrast Chart.

You should CONTINUE to Review the material, in one form or another, daily for several days, then twice a week, then weekly and increase the review time before tests.  This is called Scheduled Reviews.

This method is clearly much more than taking notes. It is a way of pulling together your reading, your lectures, and your study into a unified plan.

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