How to Improve Note Taking Skills

Note-taking is an essential part of people’s schooling and university lives. If done efficiently, note-taking can significantly reduce your workload during these periods. A bad habit people develop regarding note-taking is when they write down irrelevant notes, therefore cluttering their memory with needless information. It would be better to occasionally take down notes which are memorable and closely related to the topic – not trivia and useless facts. To improve note-taking skills, you could utilize the following ideas: write 5 words per dot point, actually physically write down notes, occasionally look up at the lecturer and learn to identify which notes are likely to be needed in the future.

We all know how hard it is to completely memorize a speech, partly because sentences aren’t very memorable – unless of course they are famous quotes. I’m sure though, that it would be much easier to memorise only the important words in these sentences – to forget all the waffling. The same goes with note-taking. Take short, crisp notes, 5 words or less, to increase their memorability. This will partially remove the need of rewriting notes to embed them in your memory, because the fewer notes you take in a lecture, the greater percentage of them you will remember after the lecture is over.

A common misjudgement on the topic of note-taking is that, since technology (laptops and iPads) is more modern than a ‘pen and paper’, it is the better option for taking notes. Many teachers at schools where laptops have been introduced to apparently improve students’ grades, know that this is not the case for most students. The tendency for laptops to cause distraction is frequent, even in the note-taking environment. Unless you are a touch-typist, people are constantly hitting the wrong keys, bringing up that distracting, squiggly red line which almost beckons you to fix it up. Because this happens so frequently for most people, these lines are a constants source of distraction. Also, when using a laptop, you feel the urge to ‘spice’ up your note-taking document by making things italics, bold, underlining titles and changing the size and font of certain phrases. While you fix up red lines and format the text, the lecturer could be saying a key point. Why not just go ‘old-school’ and use a pen and paper? It is much easier to remember notes which you have physically written, rather than typed.

It’s not a good idea to be constantly looking down at your note book or laptop. Apart from the fact it looks rude, some people find ideas easier to memorize when they see the lecturer speaking them. A hard but extremely useful skill to possess is the ability to write while looking up at the same time. Although it may impossible to do this with words that are difficult to spell, you should start practicing writing and looking up at the same time with basic words and phrases. You may find that the memorability of your notes increases.

Relevant notes are ones which are related to the topic, though not all relevant notes are necessary to take down. For example, in the subject of history, lecturers sometimes give modern day examples of ideas from the past. Generally, it is not necessary for you to take notes on examples like these, because, though they are interesting, they are unlikely to be needed in the future. It would be more useful to listen to the examples and store them as background knowledge.

If techniques like these are mastered, note-taking can turn from a seemingly ‘waste of time’ to an efficient process which greatly reduces your workload at university or high-school.