Time and technology have combined to make many changes in the classroom. Computer projectors have replaced over-head projectors; “smart” whiteboards have replaced “dumb” whiteboards, which replaced chalkboards. Teachers have even changed lecture methods to include multimedia presentations. Even though teaching methods have changed, one thing remains constant, taking notes in class. Students may be taking notes in the traditional manner, with paper and pen, or with electronic devices, either way the importance of class notes is the same. The point of class notes is to remember the information, internalize it, and later recall it. Effective note taking skills are beneficial from grade school on up through graduate school.
No matter the tools being used, manual or electronic, the purpose is the same: get the information from the teacher to the note page. In this process it is important to recognize that you can’t record everything by hand, and even if you could, you probably won’t have the time to review everything. Besides, it would be ineffective to try to remember everything the teacher says or shows you. When recording notes it is helpful to have a plan for what information you will capture. This plan needs to be generated before the class begins. Assigned readings and objectives from a syllabus will help to determine what information in a lecture is important to retain. Effective note taking begins by preparing for the class ahead of time. Write down questions and try to answer them in your notes during the class. Make a record of topics and then research them after class for the details. Don’t try to write down everything or you might miss out on the next topic while writing the previous topic. Above all, be sure your notes are legible and make sense. If you cannot understand your notes when you go to review them it is as if you never recorded them in the first place.
The teacher will present the information they want you to know. It is near impossible to receive and retain all of this information from just being in the class. It takes multiple exposures to an idea to fully understand, encode, and be able to recall it. Listening well in class should present the second exposure since you have already prepared for class by reading assigned materials. Notes should provide you with the topics you’ll need to know in greater detail. As you review your notes you can generate new questions of where to focus in order to guide your research and study. This process gives you a third exposure to the information.
Class notes are useless if they are not reviewed. It is generally believed, and some research supports, that writing something down helps to encode it in memory, but it isn’t usually enough. Reviewing your notes gives another exposure to the material and helps you really learn it. It is helpful during your review to teach someone else from your notes, or to read your notes out loud. Hearing what you have written can help you find missing information or lead to further questions you might want to find answers for. It is best to review your notes daily, until you can answer study questions without referring to them. Good review of your notes helps you to generate more questions for asking the teacher in your next class. Your questions might help the instructor to remember important information they hadn’t included in their lesson plan.
Taking notes in class is important, but it doesn’t begin or end with the time frame of a specific class. Preparing for class by reading the assignments and generating study questions is the first step. Next, you have to be in the class taking notes on the general themes, and recording the information in a legible way that makes sense when you read it later. After the class is over, take the time to review your notes and do some research to fill in details and specific information. Finally, review your notes daily and attempt to teach the topics to someone else. Taking notes without preparation or without review does little more than help you focus during a lecture, and can actually distract you from the lecture if you are not careful. Effective note taking is more than simply writing down what you see and hear.