Taking notes in class helps you to reinforce your understanding and make learning more effective. It helps you to turn what you presently see or hear into words which you can refer to in future. Due to the generation effect, writing your own notes also makes it easier for you to recall information. If you wanted to recall something which you’ve previously seen or heard, referring to your notes can jolt your mind.
Teachers may assume that students are already familiar with taking notes effectively in class, and prefer to use the limited classroom hours to teach examinable content instead. Or they just wanted to ensure that students are staying awake, in case the school principal decides to make a surprise visit to the classroom.
Students who are not too familiar with effective note taking often end up writing everything down. It may make them look busy and appear to be paying attention in class. And when it’s time to study for a test, these notes may not have any practical value at all. Writing notes in such a manner is simply not a good use of your precious time.
Instead, you should make learning more meaningful by changing the way you are taking notes in class. Note taking should never be a passive process, and you should take active steps to invoke a deeper level of thinking.
8 Effective Ways to Boost Your Note Taking
In this article, we will cover the following ways which can help you to take notes more effectively in class:
- Get familiar with the material beforehand
- Listen to what your teacher has to say
- Process the information before you write
- Exclude unnecessary or irrelevant details
- Avoid shorthand and spell words in full
- Keep practising for better speed and accuracy
- Skip perfection and just strike things out
- Rewrite your notes at the end of the day
1. Get familiar with the material beforehand
If you are using a textbook or have been given lecture notes beforehand, spend some time to study the material. Reading ahead of schedule gives you a preview of what you will be learning in class. This helps you to get familiar with how the content is organised, making it easy for you to follow what your teacher is saying. You can also prepare questions for your teacher, especially if you need time to process your thoughts.
When taking notes in class, there’s no need to rewrite things that are found in your textbook or classroom handouts. When you come across content that seems familiar, quickly locate the information to confirm that it already exists.
Students who do not read in advance may not be able to find the information as quickly. These students end up having to take more notes in class, just to be sure that they did not miss anything out.
2. Listen to what your teacher has to say
Students can sometimes get a little overly engrossed when it comes to taking notes in class. They try to listen to and record every word which their teacher says. But listening and writing at the same time can lead to the occasional mistake. It’s like trying to multitask, and you may be spreading your attention too thinly.
Most of the time, teachers are speaking at a much faster speed than what students can write or type. As a result, students may miss out some of the important points as they struggle to keep up to speed.
Before you write down anything your paper, listen carefully to what your teacher has to say. If a sentence paraphrases the previous one, there is absolutely no need to write down the same thing twice. Teachers make it a point to reiterate important details several times to reinforce understanding. But when they dish out hints for the upcoming test, you can be sure that it is only said once.
3. Process the information before you write
Have you ever found your notes looking a little foreign when you start to read them for the first time? If so, you may be taking notes without giving too much thought to the information you see or hear.
Processing information enables you to sort out your thoughts before committing them to long-term memory. It also helps you to understand things better by relating the information to prior knowledge or experience.
We understand that it can be difficult to write and think at the same time. To take notes effectively in class, you will need to keep practising. For a start, underlining keywords can make it easier for you to locate information during revision. Once you get the hang of it, start to process the information and write things in your own words.
Use bullet points if you have a list of items, or a table if you are comparing two or more things. You should also try leaving some white space between lines or paragraphs. This allows you to make additional notes or comments when you go through your notes in future.
4. Exclude unnecessary or irrelevant details
Some students take “taking notes” too literally by transcribing exactly what their teacher says. As a result, they end up with a whole pile of notes to revisit when studying for their examinations.
The typical speed at which a teacher delivers a lesson is around 100 to 150 words per minute. That works out to some 6000 to 9000 words in an hour. If you are studying in Singapore, you should be looking at the higher end of the range – the normal talking speed is way higher here than in many other parts of the world.
The point is that we cannot possibly – and shouldn’t – be writing down every word we are hearing in class. The next time you are writing notes by hand, try to actively filter out and exclude any unnecessary or irrelevant details. Of course, this habit is linked to the previous point on listening to your teacher before you write anything.
5. Avoid shorthand and spell words in full
That’s right. Unlike many other online articles, we do not recommend the use of shorthand when taking notes in class. Remember that you are not trying to record the lesson verbatim. Instead, you want to takes notes that can help you revise for your examinations.
Shorthand notations may change over time, and this could lead to potential confusion when you revisit your notes at a later date. You may also be tempted to shorten new terminology or unfamiliar words without knowing their correct spelling.
Shorthand also differs from one person to another, making it difficult for someone else to decipher your notes. You should not resort to illegible shorthand so that you can potentially scribble down everything you see or hear.
Your brain recognises words as a whole. It takes time and energy to read in shorthand. Spelling out every word only takes a few additional milliseconds, but can help you to read your notes more efficiently. Also, you wouldn’t want to accidentally write in shorthand during an examination!
6. Keep practising for better speed and accuracy
Writing has a lot to do with muscle memory and reinforced learning. The more you practise, the faster and more accurate you write. Just like sports, you can train your body to perform certain actions repeatedly with enough practice.
If you have just made the switch from typing to writing notes, you may need a little time to get up to speed. You may find yourself writing at a slower speed compared to typing, or making more mistakes in your handwritten notes. That’s normal and nothing to be worried about – you just need to continue practising.
Some of you may feel that you can never write as fast as you can type. In that case, you might be typing too quickly and not giving too much thought to the lesson content. Writing can actually slow you down and allow you to become more mindful. And when you are truly focused on something, you can attain better speed and accuracy.
Tip: Exercise your fingers regularly. Squeeze a stress ball to build finger and hand strength. During a break, stretch your hands and body, and walk around if you can.
7. Skip perfection and just strike things out
This can seem a little bit counterintuitive, but handwritten notes are what they are supposed to be. You do not need to write with your best handwriting so that your notes look like they were typed out. When making corrections, don’t be afraid to scratch words out instead of using correction tape.
Remember that you are not making a piece of flawless art, and you really don’t need to be too perfect. Correction fluid takes some time to dry out, and you may forget what you wanted to write in that spot. Correction tape becomes more transparent over time, and the pen ink beneath may start to show after some time. A clean and simple line drawn across unwanted words will do.
Maintain a good balance between your writing speed and the neatness of your handwriting. If you are writing too slowly, you may not have enough time to record some of the key information. And if you are going too fast, spend more time to process the information before penning it down.
8. Rewrite your notes at the end of the day
At the end of the day, read through your notes while the information is still fresh and crisp in your mind. This helps you to consolidate what you have learnt in class and prepare you for the next lesson. You can also check your understanding to make sure that you are not falling behind.
We recommend rewriting your notes at least once, preferably on the same day or within the same week. Leave out any repeated or unnecessary information. Reorganise the content in your preferred way. If you’ve skipped some processing of information, this is your chance to do so. If there is something you do not understand, you can seek clarification from your teacher the next day.
You can also spend some time to write a short summary of the content at the bottom of the page. The summary should tell you what the page is all about, so that you can locate information easily during revision. It also saves you time when you just need to briefly check something when doing your homework.
Note Taking as a Lifelong Skill You Can Develop
Think you’ll be completely done with taking notes after you graduate from school? That’s not quite the case, as you may need to record discussion points for future reference in the workplace. Having a well-established system of taking notes can be beneficial for you. Effective note taking helps you to consolidate the large amount of information that pours in every day.
While you are still studying, make use of the opportunity to develop your note taking skills from a young age. Figure out what works for you, and what doesn’t quite work. Always strive to improve the way you process information that you are presented with.
You will eventually discover your unique style of taking notes and may even develop your own techniques for recording information.