Our brains are not sponges. We cannot simply absorb everything that is taught to us. We must work by rote repetition to ingrain the facts, formulas, methods and processes that are essential to learning. While professors are there to help jumpstart this learning, it is the duty of each respective student to keep a solid foundation from which to continue building knowledge. This foundation is comprised of building blocks, and those building blocks are notes.
Organizing Your Notes
Note-taking is the single most important tool that a student has in their arsenal. Thorough note taking during class or while reading from assigned texts forces a student to pay complete attention. Get in the habit of highlighting keywords while taking notes. Organize notes while jotting them down by creating cursory overview terms that allow you to identify what is pertinent when reviewing the notes after class. Textbook chapters are often bullet-pointed into sections; the titles of these sections are often good cursory overview terms to use. Section notes by organizing them with these terms.
Write Faster With Shortcuts
Create a shorthand of symbols for yourself. Perhaps an *asterisk* denotes that that note needs further research. A #pound sign# can mean that the professor devoted a hefty amount of discussion to it in class. An &ersand& may mean that you should refer to another part of your notes; it is very important to weave together the significance of your notes. A concept taught on Tuesday may be elucidated by something you learn on Thursday. Following these symbols throughout your notes will help you make sense of them while studying. Which symbols mean what is inconsequential, as long as you devise a system and stick to it. The important thing is to create a system that works for you and that you will always be able to interpret.
Reference Your Information
Whenever possible, include a reference point for a note. For example, if during class you are referring to the textbook, include page or chapter numbers next to your notes so you can return for future investigation. Write in the margins of books as well. Use highlighters and underline passages. Do not place all your concern on the resale value of textbooks; nothing is more valuable than your education. You're not taking classes to sell textbooks.
Two are Stronger Than One
Scan the classroom and see who else is paying strict attention and taking copious notes. Pair up with a note-taking study buddy and share after class. Maybe you highlighted something that they did not, and vice versa. Pooling together your note-taking skills can only strengthen your knowledge base, and in turn, increase your potential for success come test time. Whether in a physical or virtual classroom, it is readily apparent who is working diligently and who is daydreaming. Identify who else is working as hard as you are and combine your resources.
Write and Re-Write
When reviewing your notes during study time do not just read them. As important as it is to physically write things down while in class - this triggers the memory and promotes association come test or paper time - recording your thoughts while reviewing notes is just as crucial. Read a class's worth of notes and write a few paragraphs that summarize those notes. A haphazard collection of facts is hard to digest. Converting bullet-points and phrases into prose format establishes a connection of the facts/concepts/etc. that you need to metabolize in order to learn. This process will also serve to help you write better papers.
Taking note of what you do not initially understand is as important as recording what you do comprehend. Place a question mark next to a section of your notes that is a bit foggy. This will remind you to look to the textbook or ask the professor about the parts of class that you did not completely understand. It is not always possible to ask a question as soon as it arises in class. And since you cannot stop at that point, there is much more to learn and note, this will help you keep a record of follow-up inquiries.
Learning only begins in the classroom. When class ends, the real learning process begins. Note-taking skills can improve your retention of knowledge as well as your ability to articulate abstract concepts. The majority of the work needed to earn a college degree is done outside of the classroom. Take everything from class with you when you leave by taking comprehensive and organized notes.
Joel is a full-time internet marketer and part-time education blogger. You’ll find Joel writing stories based on his own, on-going online college experience (Joel is currently enrolled in a phlebotomy training online course) as well has his past “traditional” college experiences.