Saturday, September 10, 2016

How I Take Notes

I have something a bit strange to admit to you: I love taking notes! There's just something about taking information, picking out what's most important, and then organizing it in a way that makes the most sense to me. The cherry on top is making notes look pretty with colored pens, highlighters, pretty handwriting, and adding doodles/charts/graphs.

Now I know not everyone shares this strange love with me, and I understand. It can be super tough to pick out what's important - you either write down every word and end up with too much info, or your notes are so sparse and bare that you can't even use them to study later because the random words on the page don't seem to make sense. 

I have to say, some of taking notes is trial and error. I've had to readjust how I take notes for a class after a bad first quiz - and that's okay. Some teachers might focus more on processes while others focus more on definitions and you just have to figure out what information they most want you to learn. But I think there are still some basic note taking tips that can help you succeed in any class and I'm going to share a few of my note taking tips with you so you can rock note taking this semester!

What to include in your notes to help you get better grades in college

Have clear headings.

You can use the headings in your textbook or on powerpoint slides your professor uses. If your teacher doesn't use headings or a powerpoint, you might have to add these in later by identifying the main idea or theme.

You can make your headings clear by writing them in all caps, writing them in a different color, or highlighting them. You can also indent or bullet all of the information you write beneath that heading to make your headings more identifiable, too.

Use good handwriting.

This can be easier if you can take your time so consider printing out slides ahead of time or note outlines if your professor provides them. Whether you can do that or not write with the best handwriting you can manage because your notes won't be very helpful if you can't read them! 

If you have a fast talking professor or long terms you can use abbreviations like w/o (without), bc (because), or even make your own - just include a key so you know what they mean later. I had a government class where I wrote LGov (local government) and NGov (national government) since they were common phrases.

Now you might read this and wonder why you would hand write notes when you have a laptop. Well writing notes by hand has been proven to help you learn better by studies (read more about that here). It also eliminates the distractions that lurk online and makes it easy to draw charts, diagrams, or images that might help you understand your notes better. 

Write down all definitions.

If you're writing notes from your textbook, it should be pretty easy to write down definitions since they're probably highlighted or bolded and have the definitions in the margins. If you're in class writing notes you might have to be brave and ask the teacher to repeat the definition or explain what words mean or you can write technical words in the margin of your notebook and look up the definition later.

Don't forget to write down the definitions of acronyms or symbols as well. If you're in a math or science class learning new equations you don't want to forget what "M" means in the equation!

Write down any and all steps and requirements.

If you're learning about a governmental process or the steps to solving a math problem, you don't want to leave any step or requirement out! Even if it seems obvious at the time, include it in your notes. It's better to have the information than not.

Write down all examples and include each step you did to find the answer.

This will be more for math and science classes, but you might need to do this in other classes as well. When you do examples in class with the teacher guiding you through it, it seems pretty easy. When you get home and are doing it by yourself...not so much. Whenever your teacher takes the times to do an example in class, copy the example and write each step in your notes. It will help you so much when it comes time for you to do a similar problem!

Write down the full name of key figures, what they did, and why they are important.

In most every class you will discuss key figures at some point. Scientists who discovered different parts of cells, characters who personify certain themes, or leaders who changed history. As a history minor I discovered you need to have all the whos, whats, and whys in your notes. You be able to rattle off what an important person did, but find it a bit harder to explain exactly why they are important. For me that's even more difficult in an English class when analyzing literature. So in every class be sure to include those three pieces of information when taking notes!

Write down anything the teacher says will be on the test.

Your teacher is not trying to trick you. If your teacher says "this will be on the test," "you'll see a similar problem on the test," or anything else along those lines WRITE IT DOWN. You might also want to put an arrow pointing to this or a star next to it, however you want to show that this is important.

Rewrite your notes.

Rewriting your notes is a way to make your notes clearer since you can better organize the information and use better handwriting. You can also make your notes more concise or add more details. I like to add little drawings, symbols, and charts/graphs because those help me remember the information better. 

Aside from improving your notes, rewriting your notes is also a great way to study. You have to actually read your notes to rewrite them (and probably remember them, even if only for a few seconds), and if you are working on organizing your notes and adding to them you will have to process that information which will help you to better learn the information!

What to include in your notes to help you get better grades in college

I hope this post helps you out if note taking is something you struggle with! I tried to include tips that will help you no matter what subject you're studying, but let me know if you'd like note taking or studying tips for a specific class or subject matter. 

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