Reading, writing, and repeating is a tried-and-true way to learn. While note-taking may be far from exciting, this traditional method of learning pays big dividends if done effectively. Legible notes may be stored permanently, shared with others, or even used as a future teaching tool. However, the effort required to take comprehensive notes often intimidates students, as does confusion about how to take thorough notes that emphasize key points.
Developing good note-taking skills takes resources. Students should invest considerable resources in taking good notes: Plenty of paper, such as a new spiral notebook, and a good, dark ink, bold-writing pen are necessities. Disorganized students who try to write notes on scraps of paper or write with hard-to-read inks are unlikely to develop into skilled note-takers. Whether at the secondary or post-secondary level, students must begin each class with fresh paper and a good, legible pen with black or dark blue ink. When beginning to take notes, it is better to be thorough than to worry about saving space.
Next, students must be ready to work. Write, write, write! Before students begin learning how to summarize and paraphrase their notes they must learn to write thoroughly. Getting used to writing prolifically is important and there is no shortcut to getting to the paraphrasing and summarizing part. When the teacher or professor says something, it should be written down. When something it written on the board, it should also be written down. Anything that is projected on a screen should be written down. After everything is written down it can be organized later.
Third, a shorthand must evolve. Students will discover which abbreviations, acronyms, symbols, and arrows they are comfortable with. These are acceptable only after a student is used to writing thorough notes and will not become confused later. Classes will often use repetitive phrases that can be abbreviated, allowing the note-taking process to be quickly condensed after the first month or two. To reference abbreviations and their meanings, the first few pages of a spiral notebook may be dedicated as a translator. For classes that use equations, such as math and science classes, more pages may be kept blank at the front of the notebook for commonly-used equations to be stored there. Such space may also be used for graphs, such as those found in an Economics course.
Fourth, students must learn to paraphrase and summarize. If a passage of information seems long and cumbersome the student may think “how can I say this better?” If a student can think of a simpler way to state the information in a way that can still convey the information accurately, that is what he or she may write in the notebook. Often, however, teachers and professors will paraphrase written information verbally, doing some of this summarization legwork for the students…provided that they are paying attention! Due to this fact, it is vital that students are always paying attention during note-taking. Many students miss key bits of information or chances to summarize and paraphrase by allowing themselves to be distracted or inattentive.
Fifth, and perhaps most difficult, students must realize that the notes they take in class are a rough draft and that a final draft, condensed and summarized, must be made before studying. Even skilled and experienced note-takers may have notes that seem garbled and sloppy after a long class, meaning that some cleaning-up work is required. Before the information becomes stale, students should flip to clean sheets of paper and begin organizing the information they have already written down into neater, more condensed formats. It is important for this step to be done as soon as possible: Waiting too long to re-write one’s notes into a final draft can mean that knowledge is lost and the rough draft notes begin to look confusing.