An important factor in getting good grades in college is your ability to take clear, well-organized class notes. Listening carefully to the instructor’s lecture and writing down the important points is the key to successful note taking. The process of listening and writing at the same time will also help you understand. A few basic techniques can help.
The purpose of class notes is to record the instructor’s lesson in a way that will allow you to review and understand the material afterwards. Your aim, therefore, is to outline the main and supporting ideas and facts so that they are clear and understandable.
Write rapidly in your own form of shorthand. Don’t try to take down everything — keep to the main points. Develop your own style of abbreviating and condensing the important data. Some people leave out vowels, for instance, or use only the first syllable, and omit articles and obvious verbs. Common abbreviations and symbols found in most dictionaries can often be of great help.
Instructors’ teaching methods will differ. You’ll have to be alert to each one’s style and organization. Often they start each class with an overview or outline and use it as a framework for their lecture. This, of course, is a good reason for being punctual.
Outlines, diagrams or lists that instructors write on the board are usually important. It is a good idea to record these in your notebook, unless you know that the same material is already covered in your textbook.
Indenting and spacing will help make your notes more readable. Start a new line out to the left for an important heading. Indent subheads under this and so on.
Start a new page for each class, with the date and topic heading the page. When a new major topic or division is introduced, begin another new page so that you will have enough room to record the right material under it.
A lined 8″ x 11″ notebook is recommended. On the front cover you can paste your work schedule, as well as your name address and phone number if you ever misplace it. You can keep all your class notes, and the instructor’s handouts, in this one book by tabbing sections for each course. You can also add or drop notes or Fresh paper as you need to. Most students, by the way, find that notes made in pen are much more legible and durable than those in pencil.
It is best to write on the right hand pages only. You can then make your own study, review or textbook notes on the left-hand pages.
Jot down questions as they occur to you in class and hold them for the proper moment. They might be answered or become unimportant in a few minutes. But if not, you’ll want to have them answered either in class or later.
Be alert to the instructor’s tone, emphasis or questions. These may be clues to things that will appear on an exam. For example, if Professor Shenoy says, “Five important uses for the antibiotic are . . . . ” or “Remember now “, you can be sure those things to be recorded.
Class lectures and textbook assignments do not always parallel each other. Your class notes will show the instructor’s approach to the topic, but you might find it helpful to make additional notes from your textbook on the left-hand page across from your class notes.
Design your note taking system so that you have enough room to record the instructor’s material, your reading notes AND your review notes on one page or two opposite pages.
Remember, review your class notes as soon as possible after the session has ended. In this way you’ll be able to correct, clarify or fill-in where necessary. This review time will also be critical in helping you remember the class material when it is fresh in your mind.
One style of note taking, developed at Cornell University, has been very helpful to students. On every right-hand page, draw a vertical line from top to bottom, 2’/4 inches in from the left side. In class use the large 6 inch column on the right for recording the lecture material. Alter class and during study times, use the smaller left-hand column for making your own review notes. By marking down the key word, idea or fact, it can help you remember what you are studying and help you review for exams. Some students find it helpful to use a colored marker or pen during review to underline the important words or phrases.
Completing textbook or reading assignments before each class will help reduce note taking in class. You will know whether the material under discussion is in the text or not. You will already have underlined the important ideas in the book, so you won’t have to duplicate these points when the instructor makes them. Instead of taking down these same facts write “refer to ‘ textbook chapter.”
Typing or rewriting notes is normally a waste of time, if they are legible, correct and complete it is much more productive to spend your time reviewing the notes, reading your text and keeping up every day and every week with your studies.