Taking Note – the best way to do it

As the siren calls of ‘new year new me’ lose their vitality, and our goals of ‘being more productive’ disappear from view, lectures and readings can start to feel like a chore. But all is not lost. Designed to help even the most slovenly student, this guide will teach you how to take notes without typing verbatim or giving up after slide three.

As an aside, if your notes are efficient, comprehensive and organised, keep going. But if like me, you have made something of a USP out of being an adept procrastinator, then here are some note-taking tips for reading, lectures, and revision:

Tips for taking notes when reading: 

Headings

Using headings aids clarity. Here are six headings that ensure that you have comprehensively understood the reading:

  1. Thesis

You want to locate the author’s thesis first, quote it directly and reformulate it into your own words. By isolating the thesis, you can use it as a frame of reference, asking yourself ‘has this author convinced me of what they are trying to show?’.

  1.  Important points

This one is superficially self-explanatory. It’s easy to fall into the note-taking trap of thinking that every point is an important point. Important points are emphasised by repetition, signalling language such as ‘significantly’, and are usually mentioned in the introduction and summarised in the conclusion.

  1.  Objections

State what the objection is, in your own words (O). Then find out whether the author addresses these objections or come up with potential responses that the author could make (R). Then evaluate whether the author could overcome this objection, and if not why (E). For every point you want an ORE—objection, response, evaluation.

  1.  Questions Raised

Here is the place to jot down things you did not understand. Record areas of confusion as questions rather than words. Instead of noting ‘contextualism’, write ‘how should we define contextualism?’ or ‘how does contextualism relate to x?’ and so on. After reading, you should try and answer the questions yourself using the resources that you have. If you can’t find an answer, writing areas of confusion in this way records the exact question that you need to ask your tutor.

  1.   Reflection

Arguably the most crucial section, here you should write your opinion on what you have just read. Be clear. Be colloquial. If you think it was rubbish, write that. You are far more likely to remember your notes if they are written how you speak, rather than how you want to speak.

  1.  To research

Here you can write down other mentioned authors and ideas. Researching theses point will aid your understanding of the work as well as context.

Quoting and initials

If you are quoting, quote directly and always cite as you go. When rewording academic arguments or creating ideas of your own put your initials next to the bullet point. This will avoid confusion between your ideas and other people’s, as well as helping to avoid plagiarism.

Asterisk

Put asterisks next to essential points. If you are on a laptop, typing ‘command + f’ will bring you straight to all the points that you put an asterisk next to. You can also use double asterisks for the most important points.

Tips for note taking during lectures and tutorials 

Many of the tips for reading apply to lectures and tutorials. But here are three specific tips for lectures and tutorials:

  1. Proactive Listening

The relentless tedium of deciding what to note and what to ignore can make us wish that we had four ears, five hands, and two brains. But you listen for repeated words and ideas. Write down terminology, arguments, or even words that the lecturer uses that you think will make you sound clever in an essay. You can then come back to this section after the lecture and make sure that you have a functioning definition for each term.

  1.  Make use of other people’s opinions

Listen to the opinions of your professor and peers and write them down. Whether you agree or disagree, other people’s views are fundamental in substantiating or modifying your beliefs.

  1.  The Last Five-minute Rule

It is in the last five minutes that you need to pay the most attention and take the best notes. Under the heading ‘summary’, type or write what your professor emphasises. These will be the key terms and concepts that you have covered. Use this as the syllabus you wish you had.

Tips for Revision 

Taking comprehensive notes throughout the semester will save you time and stress. You will have the foundations of your revision notes, all you need to do is condense them. Look for the asterisks, look for your initials, look for the OREs. But a few words of advice:

  1. Repetition is key. Write and rewrite topic sentences that you want to bring in, an author’s thesis that you have reformulated, and so on.
  2. Effectiveness trumps aesthetics: spend time on the content, not the artwork. Make sure your work is easy to view and comprehend visually, but don’t spend hours colouring in or starting over whenever you make a mistake.
  3. Use smutty mnemonics: you will remember a string of related concepts far easier if you relate them to your flatmate doing something rude.

Above all, be consistent when you can, and kind to yourself when you can’t. Nail your note taking and the rest will flow much easier!

Image Credit: Sacha Chua via Flickr

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