Note taking is an important part of studying, as it is used throughout the learning process. Notes are taken when learning a subject, studied when reviewing, and utilized while taking tests.
Because note taking is so important, knowing how to take good notes is important too.
Here are 5 methods for better note taking. Even using just 1 of these methods will help you, but you will get the most benefit from using all 5 of them.
1. Do It By Hand
Typing out notes on a computer may seem a lot better than writing notes out by hand. After all, typing is faster, you don’t have to worry about legibility issues, and you can easily backup your notes.
There are some downsides to using a computer to type.
The first is that if you become distracted while using a computer you’ll end up browsing the internet, playing games, or fiddling with applications. Whereas if you become distracted while writing down notes, you’ll just end up doodling on paper.
The second downside is that you’ll retain less information. By doing the physical activity of writing out the words, your brain will remember more of what you wrote down.
The third downside is that studies have shown that you can be more creative when using a pen and paper than you can when using a keyboard and computer.
One reason why you are more drawn to using a computer to take notes may be because of how easy it is to back things up. You can save your documents to the cloud, a USB key, or an external hard drive.
When taking notes by hand, you can do the same thing, just with one extra step. You can use your phone to take pictures of your notes and then you can backup those pictures wherever you want.
2. Pause (If You Can)
If you’re like me, you probably write a lot slower than a person talks. This can make it difficult to figure out what’s important enough to be written down and tricky to write it down before the speaker moves on to another topic.
If you’re watching a video lecture, you can get around those difficulties by pausing the video whenever you need to write down notes.
I would also suggest watching the lecture through once without taking notes, and then watching through and taking notes the second time.
By watching a lecture once, you will be able to understand which topics are important and how they are connected. When re-watching the lecture you will know what you should write down, and it will reinforce the material that is being taught.
If you’re attending a lecture in person, see if you’re allowed to record it, or if there are any professional recordings being made.
3. Use Shorthand
When studying a topic, you may find that certain words or terms come up frequently. Instead of writing those terms out in full, you can use shorthand versions.
When doing shorthand you’ll want to keep a list of all of the abbreviations you use, plus what they actually mean. That way you won’t have to worry about forgetting.
You don’t just have to use shorthand notation for topic-specific terminology. You can also use shorthand for everyday words.
- with = w/
- and = & or +
- therefore = ∴
- because = b/c
- before = b/4
- approximately = approx.
- compare = cp.
- definition = def.
- difference or different = diff.
- important = impt.
There are many more words that can be abbreviated, and you can easily find lists online.
4. Keep Your Supplies Organized
When you’re about to start taking notes you really don’t want to realize that you’ve run out of ink in your pen or that you forgot to bring an eraser for your pencil.
To avoid that situation, keep your supplies organized and ready to go. A pencil case will be sufficient to hold your writing implements, and a binder with extra paper will prevent shortages.
Keep your supplies in an area where you can easily access them. If you’re watching video lectures online, this area could be beside your computer.
If you’re attending lectures in person, keep the supplies by your door so you can easily grab them on your way out.
5. Make It Pretty Later
When taking notes, it’s easy to become distracted by trying to make your notes look super pretty.
I suggest keeping one notebook with rough notes and one notebook with more elegant notes.
When watching a lecture, use your rough notebook to take down notes, and don’t worry about pen color or spacing. Just make sure you write down what you need to know and keep everything legible.
Later you can go through your rough notebook and rewrite your notes so that they are categorized by topic, have fancy titles and sections, and are color coded.
To make your life easier when taking rough notes, make sure to mark down the date, subject, class, and any other information you think you might need. It can really help you when you have to sort things out later.
If you have any recommendations for future blog posts, let me know.
I post on the topic of homeschooling, unschooling, and self-directed learning every Monday, so if you found this post helpful, consider checking back next week for a new post on learning.