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Note Taking Strategies

Analyze your current note taking strategy. Ask yourself these questions: What's going right or wrong? What is your current system? What do you feel like you are doing well, and how did you develop these strengths? What do you need to improve? What new habits do you need to adopt? How do you learn best? How do you best absorb and process information?

Discover Your Learning Style

There are lots of different terms and categories for learning styles. The three basic ones are: auditory, visual and tactile/kinesthetic. Many students are multi-modal learners, meaning they have more than one style. Your learning style may vary depending on the course material.

Your preference may not be your style. You may want to learn by just reading material once and remembering it, but this may not be how you're wired. Your style is not wrong or right; it's just part of who you are. Don't try to force yourself to learn like someone else if it doesn't work for you.

College and high school are vastly different, and you may need to take some time to figure out how you learn best in this new environment. A lot of high school instruction is the same style, so you adapted, and now you have to re-learn how you learn best. How do you adapt your study habits to reflect your learning style?

Here are some suggestions, depending on your style:
  • For aural learners try tape recording lectures, engaging in classroom discussions, reading aloud.
  • For visual learners, try converting notes to graphic representations, highlighting different subjects or concepts in different colors, leaving white space in between topics.
  • For tactile learners, consider typing out handwritten notes, creating flash cards, studying while exercising, acting out concepts.

Note-taking Tips

  • Get organized. Do you need a separate notebook for each class or a big binder with dividers? If you have all your notes in one location, then you can study for any subject at any time.
  • Read your assignment before you come to class. Note taking comes easier when you already have some understanding or awareness of the material.
  • Date each lecture and number all pages. Add a topic/heading to the top of each page, this makes retrieving and reviewing specific information much easier.
  • Format your notes. Use a method that you can easily follow like an outline, mind mapping, Cornell, etc.
  • Indent secondary ideas, supporting ideas or examples. Blocks of text all run together, so your topics/main ideas need to stand out visually.
  • Incomplete sentences or phrases will be necessary. If you try to write down every word your instructor says, you will get behind and become frustrated.
  • Leave white space between topics or ideas. Write in questions you might have for your instructor that you want to ask after class.
  • During lecture, take notes on all definitions, lists, formulas or solutions. Listen for verbal cues from your instructor.

Note taking and Math

  • Copy down the formula carefully and clearly in the center of the page and in handwriting larger than normal, so it is extremely easy for you to see each element of the formula.
  • Copy down every single step carefully and clearly in the exact order the teacher gives them, even the easy steps that you think you will always remember. This way you will always have every step you will need to solve the formula. If you do not get all of the steps during class, leave blank spaces and ask the teacher to help you fill in the missing steps after class.
  • Number each step to help you remember how many steps there are to solve the formula.
  • On the back of your lecture notes, make a vocabulary list for the specialized words used in the formulas your teacher explains.
  • In the entry for each vocabulary word, list the word, the technical meaning, your own meaning and show where the word is in the formula. This will ensure that when you have word problems to solve, you will be able to understand the words in the problem and be able to correctly relate them to the formula.
  • Copy down the sample problems exactly so you have a full demonstration of how numbers can be plugged into the formula.
  • After class, on the back of your notes, make up your own sample problems to practice the formula. This will help you practice the skills you will need to memorize and solve the formula.
  • After class, use different colored highlighters to highlight the individual elements of the formula and then use those same colors to highlight the steps where those elements are used in solving the formula.
  • Review your notes every evening until you are able to recite back the formula and the steps for solving it without looking at your notes.

When and Where to Study Your Notes

Analyze your study routine and environment. What is the best time of day for you study? Think about when you have the most energy and ability to retain information; not just when you normally try to squeeze in your studying ? How do you reserve this time of day for studying? What do you need, or not need?

  • Noise level. Do you work better with music or silence?
  • Food or drink. Does it keep your energy up or keep you distracted?
  • Location. Are you more comfortable at home or is too comfortable? Do you need an authority figure present?
  • Structure. Should you be sitting at a desk or spread out on the floor? Should you study indoors or outdoors?
  • Numbers. Do you study best alone, with a partner or in a group?
Develop a study ritual that allows for spaced study sessions instead of "cramming."

Keeping Balanced, Keeping Sane

You'll need to consider your other responsibilities, along with course selection, when registering each semester. Your work schedule may have to be adjusted, or you may need to pursue a more flexible job while in school, supplementing your income with financial aid.

Family and friends need to be made aware of your educational commitment. You'll need their help and support and for them to be respectful of your time.

Trying to rush through your education may actually extend your time here if you have to re-take courses, if you become overwhelmed and need to withdraw, etc.

It takes the time it takes - remember it's a two-year or four-year degree in theory only.

Helpful Web Sites

Note-Taking Tips
13 Top Tips for Excellent College Note-Taking
Note Taking Strategies of Highly Successful Students | The Art of Manliness

Mind Mapping
Basics of mind/concept mapping

Cornell Note Taking System
The Cornell Note-taking System | Learning Strategies Center

Taking Notes from a Textbook
Reading texts: note taking, marking and underlining

Learning Styles (Complete a Learning Styles Questionnaire to determine your style.)
LEARNING STYLES:Find out in 2 minutes
Note Taking Tips for Different Learning Styles