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Note-taking, like other forms of study
Developing an organized system of note taking is a critical part of college success. Taking great notes doesn’t just help us retain more material, it also helps develop higher order thinking skills. When we take notes, we are forced to arrange concepts in terms of priority, relevance and interconnectedness.
Done right, our notes can be far more than a tool for rote memorization and acing tests, they also help us to master the concepts behind the material. There is plenty of advice out there on how to organize and review notes for different types of subjects. But note taking protocols and guidelines from the pre-web era are of little help to today’s information-overloaded student.
That’s why we offer our own guide to the importance of notes and how to take them in the age of Google search and distance learning:
Note-taking, like other forms of study, is a skill set. Unfortunately, few high school students are truly prepared for the level of information processing demanded of them in college. The best way to prepare for college-level coursework is to develop college-level standards of note taking and organization. To start:
- Handwrite your notes. Scholarly evidence supports the link between handwritten notes and memory retention; handwriting reinforces the neural pathways that help you remember new concepts. Over time, the practice of taking good notes will help you quickly identify salient points and flag unclear concepts for further investigation.
- Annotate texts as you read them. Taking notes in the margins of your textbook prior to the lecture can spotlight concepts you need more of an explanation on, and outlining highlights from your professor’s lecture can not only serve to answer those questions but to identify important material you’ll see again on a test. You can even use your syllabus to sketch out a rough framework for note-taking before you begin to study.
- Teach yourself to hear and recognize key points. As your instructor speaks, he or she may drop hints that an important nugget of data is about to be delivered. When you hear phrasing or cues like the ones listed below, pay special attention to the information that follows:
- Usage of a number: “There are three main branches” or “The second most often seen is the…”
- Usage of an example or hypothetical situation
- Reference to an item or passage in the textbook
- Usage of “the following” whether it be steps, ideas, or people
- Change in volume or tone of voice
- Elaborate gesticulation or dramatic explanation of a point
- Reference to anything written on the board or in a PowerPoint
- Transitional language such as “consequently” or “therefore”
- Revisit and review your notes regularly. Your completed notes are your best tool to prepare for exams and other assignments in class. It’s long been proven that information contained in written notes has a 34% chance of being remembered, versus only 5% of material not written into notes. Repeating concepts or ideas out loud while studying has been proven to increase memory retention even more. If you’re uncomfortable reciting information aloud, simple memory rehearsal has been found to significantly increase the amount of information that can be recalled on demand.
The best way to teach yourself how to create great notes is to practice. This will help you realize what kind of note-taking is best suited for your learning style. For example, aural learners often find it useful to tape class lectures while they take notes. Playing the tape back can help to reframe notes you jot down in class. Of course this is an effective and comprehensive review for any student who has the time to review this way. It’s especially useful for reviewing fast lectures. You can listen to the tape, rewind key passages and fill in the blanks in your notes as you form a coherent outline.