How to Take the Best Notes in University or College
Adjusting to being back at school also means updating how you take notes in your classes. Find out the best ways you should be taking notes.
The school year has just begun, which means classes are back in full swing! Now’s the time to start making good note taking habits in the classroom. You may think that what you’ve been doing in high school has worked great for you (and it may have!), but the sheer amount of information that will be thrown at you in each class can be mountainous. You need to be prepared to sort through and collect all this information. No more writing everything down in your notebook!
So, to start your year off on the right note and with the right notes, check out these top note taking tips that have helped college and university students:
1. Print out lecture slides
If your professor posts their lecture slides in advance of the class (lucky you!), then you need to print them out and take them to class with you!
This will give you a chance to glance at what you’ll learn in class before it begins which can help mentally prepare you for the content. As the professor goes through each slide, you can write out your notes on the printed slides that you brought. Not only will this help organize your notes, but you’ll also be able to visually connect the material to your notes and recall the information better.
2. Handwritten vs. digital
There’s a debate over whether handwriting your notes or digitally creating them is better. But there are benefits to both!
Handwriting your notes in lectures can help you quickly determine what information is important and can improve your memorization. Taking digital notes can help you quickly take down information and organize it as you go with charts, columns, graphics, etc. Digital notes can also be accessed from anywhere, meaning you won’t have to take your notebook for that one class with you everywhere you go.
While both have their merits, it can depend what strategy works best for you. And don’t be afraid to mix it up for different types of classes. Writing out your notes for classes that include many different formulas, like statistics or engineering, may be the best option. Whereas digitally taking your notes may be a better option for social studies courses, like history. If you’re not actively writing notes and you’re feeling a bit fidgety, some people like to doodle to help them absorb information.
3. Summarize the class in your own words
After each class, take 10-15 minutes to summarize what you learned in your own words. This will help you retain the information better as you’ve reflected on the material, put it in your own words, and written it down.
This is also a good habit to get into because it helps you recognize if you actually understood the material. If you find that you can’t summarize the class in your own words, then it gives you the opportunity to ask your classmates or meet with the professor in their office hours to clarify the information. Make sure you seek out help shortly after the lecture because by the time the next lecture rolls around the prof will have moved on to new information.
4. The Cornell Method
The Cornell Method of note taking actually uses summarization as part of its technique. This method helps you record, organize, and understand the notes you take in class. So how does the Cornell Method work?
You’ll divide your page into three sections: a large column on the right side, a smaller column on the left, and a short row at the bottom. In the large column on the right, you’ll write your notes during your lecture as you would normally. In the column on the left, you’ll write down any cues or questions you can relate to your notes. You can use these questions to test yourself while you study. The bottom row is meant for you to summarize that page’s information in your own words.
5. Recorded lectures
After covid, recorded lectures have become much more popular. So, how can you take notes for recorded lectures? Sitting and staring at a screen for an hour or two can be tiring and make it difficult to focus. If possible, watch the lecture at twice the speed! That way you can get through the content at a quicker pace without impacting your learning. But don’t watch the lecture faster than twice the speed or you won’t retain as much information. This may not be the best strategy if the content is dense and complex, so whether you’re watching the lecture at a quicker pace or not, try this next tactic to improve your notes.
Pause the lecture! While this isn’t something you can do in-person, recorded lectures have the benefit of being able to pause the video. Every 10 minutes or so, pause the video and try to summarize the information. You’ll be actively engaged in the content while also absorbing information and taking good notes.
6. Colour-code your notes
At some point, everyone’s eyes glaze over when reading the same black and white information from a notebook or a screen while tired. Help your future self study more effectively by adding some colour to your notes!
Colour-coding key information will help you organize your notes and find what you’re looking for when studying. For example, any new definitions and terms that appear in your notes can be highlighted or written in red and any larger concepts can be in blue. Don’t go overboard with the colours. Limit yourself to three to four colours to avoid confusion and stay organized.
7. Have a designated notes buddy in each class
We all know that studying with a buddy can help make the time more enjoyable, determine what information you know, share information if one of you is missing it, and memorize the content better. But, why wait until a test or exam comes up to utilize your buddy?
One of the first things you should do when you walk into a new class is to find or make a friend. This way, if you have to miss a lecture then you can grab notes from your friend. Or, you can compare your notes to identify any missing information and determine what details you both thought was important.
As you attend more lectures, you’ll refine your note taking skills and find what works best for you. But don’t get stuck writing down every single word the professor says! Try these note taking techniques to become an effective note taker!
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