8 Tips to Maximizing Your Note Taking Efficiency

As a freshman into post-secondary education, we’re often hit with a big BANG as we realize just what our high school teachers meant when they said, “You have no idea how different it will be“. Suddenly, classes are at odd times of the day, sleeping patterns become nearly non-existent, and lectures… aren’t the perfect place to make paper airplanes or pass notes to your friends anymore.

We’re put into a large lecture hall with hundreds of other students, some classes can be dry and long, and lectures are taught quickly. How do we keep up? What’s the most effective way of grasping all of the information we’ve just been bombarded with on paper?

The first question: to hand-write or to type? Truthfully, I’ve always been a little bit more biased against typing, as I truly believe the old-fashion way of pen and paper helps the memory remember much more. But for those of us who are faster at typing, why not?

Often, we’re told to review our notes daily, re-write them, go over them. But reality is, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do all that while reading hundreds of pages of a textbook each night. So instead, why not just have efficient notes?

OneNote, a great note taking program on Microsoft, helped me get through post-secondary by organizing my notes so nicely, I almost couldn’t believe it. Some tips to taking good notes:

1. Date your notes

I put this as the first rule of thumb, because it will be your lifeline. If you miss a class or two, and you can’t remember which lecture it was, you can always backtrack when it comes to exam studying time, by looking for the missing date. If notes aren’t dated, it can become very messy and difficult to investigate what you’re missing.

2. Use color

Whether typed or written out, use the highlighter function. Print out the notes and use a highlighter. HIGHLIGHT important terms so they stand out. This way, when it comes time to study, you know what to test yourself on. Rather than repeatedly reading your notes hoping you’ll ace tomorrow’s midterm, why not quiz yourself on the highlighted terms? (I like to use the DEI model– definition, example and importance model to key terms).

3. Link references

Make sure to write down any references to textbook pages or reading material the professor mentions. This is often a good indicator of something important to look back at in the text, as it may show up in examination. (Ex: Prof refers to pg. 38)

4. Go short form

No, I’m not referring to O.M.G. and lol. You’ll learn very quickly, (unless you’ve got the typing speed of 90wpm), you won’t be able to catch every word the prof says. So, pick and choose wisely, while also using abbreviations for simple words wherever possible. For example, it’s pretty ridiculous writing because 100x over your page, just write b/c.
Common abbreviations: because- b/c with-w/, without- w/o. Learn the common abbreviations for your course of study.

5. Mark questions

This is a big important one. If questions come up in the lecture, questions other students have, questions the lecturer or TA brings up, or questions you may have, write it in a sidebar near the topic being addressed. This is important. If you have questions, when it comes time to studying, you can always find the answer or think of it as a possible test question itself.

6. Key point discussions

If a topic leads to a class discussion, consider it important. Jot down key points from it because this is the best way to remember things when you’re in test mode. What are the chances you’ll remember a study done in the 1800s with its statistics alone, versus a conversation regarding the conclusions?

7. Preempt the test

After you’ve written and gone over to review your notes, make sure you write in any questions you feel you would find on a test. KEEP THESE QUESTIONS!!

8. Create a question sheet

When it comes time to studying, you can’t possibly expect to go through 5 courses x 6-8 units worth of notes and do well on everything. This is why summarized notes from tests are extremely important to keep handy. Before every midterm/unit test, create a question sheet. A question sheet could consist of questions/definitions/applications that you feel would come up in the test, and use it as a base for studying.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, rafiq s.

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