Students Take Effective Notes
voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but
in having new eyes"
have the impression that students who enroll in college already
understand they need to take good notes and know how to do
the sad truth is that unless someone along the way has taken
the time to demonstrate exactly what good note taking is,
and explained why it is a necessary skill for learning and
retaining new information, the average student will end up
jotting down notes that are either disorganized and indecipherable,
or not take notes at all.
Note taking and
the other learning skills necessary for college success are
usually offered as short courses in college learning centers
as well as in semester-length reading and study skills classes.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of students avoid taking
these classes because they think they already have adequate
skills. They desire instead to move ahead more quickly by
enrolling in only those classes that relate to their major.
As a result, many students come to campus extremely unprepared
for dealing with the vast amount of information they will
be expected to learn and retain.
If we want our
under prepared students to succeed, content instructors
need to take time at the beginning of their courses to discuss
the necessity of good notes and to provide a few useful tips
and guidelines on how to go about doing it. This section
is design to help you:
- Teach note
taking skills to students
- Raise student
awareness as to why note taking is important and a necessary
skill in college
- Inform students
about listening as a skill and some steps to take to improve
- Provide basic
guidelines and tips to help students take better notes
- Support the
acquisition and use of good note taking skills in the classroom
and during study assignment
The Value of
- First, taking
notes helps to identify the important ideas presented
in discussions and lectures.
- Second, the
information given in class may not be available elsewhere
and the lecture may be their only opportunity to learn about
- Third, instructors
usually formulate quizzes and exams based upon the
important points covered and emphasized in class.
- Fourth, good
notes provide an efficient way to review and remember
what they need to know to do well on tests and will serve
as a handy reference for any future applications they may
Memory as a Factor
Unless we actively
take steps to remember, the mind is capable of retaining information
for only relatively short periods of time. After
hearing an important lecture, studies show that the average
person is able to recall:
- 50 % after
- 35 % after
- 20 % after
notes and backing it up with an occasional review now and
then, the percentage continues to drop until finally very
little information is retained at all. Based
upon these percentages, it is clear that listening to a lecture
without taking notes is a formula for failure.
Advice to Your
will appreciate comments from you about how to take notes
in your class. If you provide a print out of your PowerPoint
slides, or an outline of your lecture it will guide notetaking.
You may want to give students more details for the first week
or two and wean them by giving fewer details over time.
Learn to Listen
- Good listening
requires focus and attention, and this takes practice.
If you allow your thoughts to wander, or if you tend to
pay more attention to what's going on next to you or in
or around the classroom rather than on the information
that is being presented by the instructor, you will break
the mental connection you have and the new information
will not reach you.
- In order
to train yourself to maintain your focus and attention,
for the first two weeks of the semester, listen selectively
and write down only the main ideas of lectures.
- As your listening
and concentration skills begin to improve, gradually
attempt to capture more of what is presented by inserting
more of the details from the lecture.
- Later on,
when you feel your listening skills are ready, start
to include some of the examples the instructor uses
or add some of your own connections into your notes.
The first thing
to consider in creating an effective set of notes is whether
your handwriting is clear enough so when you go to review,
whether it is days, weeks or months later, you'll be able
to understand what you previously wrote down. Speedy
writing shouldn't be illegible writing. If you end up with
some chicken scratches, you'll need to fix them as soon
as possible after the lecture so that the words and ideas
will be understandable to you when you need to review them
One of the
most important things you can do to improve your note-taking
is to develop a shorthand style so you can reduce your
writing to only what is absolutely necessary using keywords,
abbreviations and symbols. Here are some ideas to try:
or print legibly
- Use pen
(pencil is harder to read and smears)
in phrases rather than sentences
a line after each idea to make room for adding information
several lines at the end of a topic to signal a change
using parenthesis ( ), brackets [ ], and circles and
squares to group information that belongs together.
- Use an
asterisk * or exclamation point ! or underlining
to indicate important points. Alert yourself to the
most important points by using double asterisks or
- Use colons
or arrows to show that one idea results from or causes
another, or to replace words such as "leads to"
"becomes" or "follows". Here's
an example of how to use colons for that purpose -
"school: degree: career: financial rewards".
- You can
use mathematical symbols to compare two things. For
instance use = to show equivalence. To indicate less
than or fewer than, use a < symbol. For more than
or greater than, use a > mark.
- Try using
a ? next to something you want to ask the instructor
more about, or use two ?? if a point is very confusing
to you and needs to be clarified.
- Use key
words and leave out functional words such as a's ,
some sort of order to aid comprehension
order (by date or sequence of occurrence)
categories to help file and retain the information
a personal shorthand system
standard abbreviations examples: Corp SBCC i.e.
Jan. Wed. Co. etc. e.g. vs.
"shortcut" abbreviations (cut off the
ends of words)
examples: subj. max. min. democ. biol. univ.
vowels (consonants carry most of the sound)
examples: rdg. wrtg. gvt. ckg. acct.
symbols (consult the dictionary for ideas and
create your own) examples: w/ w/o & # * ?
! % @ = < >
numbers instead of writing them out
examples: 5 rather than five, , 25 rather than
twenty five, 1st rather than first
- Go over
your notes for clarity and to check your comprehension
or underline the most important points while reviewing
again within a few days to store in long term memory
- In order
to hold in memory, review now and then
Method is an efficient and visually clear way to take
good notes. Here's how to do it.
Divide a sheet
of paper into two separate areas by drawing a line down
the page making a two inch wide margin on the left-hand
side. The right side is where you'll write your notes.
The narrower left margin is where you fill in any key
words, headings, comments or questions you want to add
related to the material you've written on the right. Below
is an example of notes on a lecture on Improving Vocabulary.
Note how the two-column approach works. First the student
wrote her notes on the right side of the page and then
selected the best keyword to identify and remember it
in the left column:
are two types of meanings for a word.
is the literal meaning like what you find in a dictionary
- called its denotation.
other meaning is called a connotation and it relates to
the implied meaning - a specific culture's or person's associations
with that word.
learn vocabulary well is to understand that a word has both
types and that means a word is usually either positive or
negative in tone.
The Cornell Notetaking Method
is presented in Walter Pauk's How to Study in College
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1974
When we learn
something new, it is automatically entered into our short
term memory and unless we take steps to transfer it into
long term memory, the information will soon be forgotten.
The first step for transferring that information is to review
your notes as soon as possible after a lecture, checking
your understanding of the ideas and making any necessary
corrections and changes that would help improve your comprehension
and retention of the material.
Last and very
important, be sure to review your notes on a regular basis
in order to insure that the material remains stored in your
long term memory. As time passes and you feel confident
you do remember the information, you can be ready for a
test by just a quick review.