How to Take Good Study Notes

Taking notes is an essential part of college life. Without good notes, it is difficult to retain and understand everything you learn during class. An effective note-taking process can help you concentrate and absorb information better during a lecture as well as make revision and referencing later that much easier. Well-structured and organized notes also make it easier for you to study for your exams and prepare for term papers. 

While there is no one fixed way to take notes, there are some general tips and guidelines that you can follow when note-taking to make sure that you have the best possible revision and studying experience. Here are a few tips you’re sure to find useful:

  1. Listen carefully to what the professor says. While writing down key points is essential, it is even more important that you focus on listening and understanding, and not spend too much time looking at what you have to write. Pay attention to what is being taught, and note down important points simultaneously, preferably in your own words to ensure that you have understood the concept properly. Feel free to develop your own version of a shorthand and abbreviations to be able to take notes faster and to keep up with your professor’s lecture. Also, for particularly important lectures, you could also consider using audio-recording apps. However, be sure to check with your instructor if they are okay with being recorded, even if it’s only for your own personal notes.
  2. Make sure you have all the materials prepared beforehand. You cannot be an effective note-taker if you don’t even have all your books and writing materials with you. Make sure that you are sufficiently stocked up on good writing instruments and paper so that you don’t run out of pages or ink while you’re writing in class. Trying to scramble around for a spare pen could waste a precious few minutes of lecture time. Alternately, if you plan on going the technology way, make sure your laptop or recording device are sufficiently charged.
  3. Use creative diagrams and mind maps. While jotting down points or short sentences is quick and effective, some topics lend themselves better to visual representations. Drawing mind maps helps simplify the concept better and makes it easier to understand, especially when you’re revising or trying to grasp the connections between interrelated topics. Procedures or cyclical concepts are better represented through flow charts. Graphically presented notes also stick better in your mind, making them much easier to recall than regular text. So, don’t hesitate to get creative with your note-taking!
  4. Pay attention to keywords. While writing in your own words is rather helpful, it is naturally essential that certain keywords or definitions are as close as possible to the lecturer’s explanation. Pay close attention to these keywords during the lecture and make sure you highlight them when you’re writing so that you know you need to study them during revision.
  5. Do some background reading before you come to class. Most college lecturers assign pre-class reading texts to their students ahead of their lecture so that they can best utilize their class time delving deeper into difficult concepts or conducting class discussions. Always ensure that you catch up on this reading well in time for the lecture. Even if no reading material has been assigned, it is always a good idea to check with the lecture schedule and topic so that you can familiarize yourself with the topic. Not only will this help you actively participate in the class but it will also ensure that you are aware of certain terminologies and phrases that the teacher uses, which will help you keep up with your lecturer and make your note-taking easier.
  6. Make your notes attractive and readable. Make sure your handwriting is neat and legible, especially if you are prone to use abbreviations, so that you can don’t end up puzzling over your own notes. Use highlighters when needed and underline the important points. Keep in mind that you will refer to your notes throughout the semester, if not longer; so you want to be as clear as possible. 

Good notes can be the best study aids if taken down well. Never underestimate how much they can help you understand and remember things better. Not only can they work as mnemonic aids but notes can also help you clarify your own thoughts and opinions on key concepts. What other note-taking tips work well for you? Do share them with us in the comments below!

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