Do your notes look more like chicken scratch than an organized stream of thought? Do you review your notes before a test, only to find that you have no idea what you were trying to say? Note-taking can be difficult because you can’t take time off to organize your thoughts without the risk of missing important information. But don’t worry; if you’re new to note-taking, or a seasoned professional looking to better their note taking skills, follow these seven steps and become a god of lecture notes!1. Practice writing quickly.
Some students find that cursive helps them write faster. Others use abbreviations, like & and R. Some even learn shorthand to give themselves extra time for organization! Try practicing different methods and timing yourself. Just make sure you understand what you’ve written when you’re done!
2. Consider organizing your notes like an outline.
This method doesn’t work for everyone, but having different levels of organization can often provide clarity on what sections go with what headers. This can be tricky to do while your professor is talking 150 words per minute; try referring to the corresponding chapter of your textbook to help separate.
3. Leave extra space between sections.
Lecturers don’t always follow a perfect outline format while they’re talking. Sometimes they will jump ahead, then go back to a previous section and elaborate. Leaving yourself some space can help with that, or let you go back and add additional notes later. This can be anywhere from a few extra lines to a whole page, and there’s no hard rule; you’ll learn which professors are more guilty of this, and how much space to leave for each of them.
4. Come up with patterns.
Have an important date you need to remember? Maybe you’ll signify it with an > arrow. Important definition? Try adding an *asterisk and underlining the defined word. It doesn’t matter what patterns you choose, but keeping things consistent will help save you time and greatly improve your understanding.
5. Use highlighters, possibly even in different colors.
This is an extension of number four. If your exam is going to have a “key terms” section, then consider highlighting all your definitions in blue, so you can find them more easily. You can also use highlighters to signify the most important information, or only the information that’s going to be on the test.
6. Rewrite your notes when you get home.
The most obvious benefit to this is that after your lecture, you’ll have a better idea of how your notes should be organized. But rewriting your notes after every class can also help you retain the information better, and will ultimately help you during exam time.
7. Compare notes with a friend or study group.
Did you miss an important section or piece of information? Or does one of your friends have a really great method to note taking that you could benefit from? Friends and study buddies are one of the greatest assets any student has. Take advantage of this by making sure you all understood the lecture. Bonus: teaching a concept to your friend is one of the best ways to learn it yourself!
These seven tips aren’t the only note taking skills you need and, ultimately, you should use whatever methods work best for you. But learning to take better notes is the first step to becoming a better student, and scoring better on exams. Good luck, and happy note taking!