As an adult student, and mother of three college-aged children, experience has taught me the importance of good study skills and habits. Not only can a student “survive” college with these skills, they can actually do quite well. I took the opportunity to write this paper with my children in mind. Learning how to take lecture notes effectively is the first step college students need to make the transition from high school to college easier.
Few people realize how fast memory fades. Studies on memory have shown that, without review, 47% of what a person has just learned is forgotten in the first twenty minutes and 62% is forgotten after the first day. (University of Texas at Austin). Therefore, having good lecture notes to review can determine how well you are able to perform on exams.
- Go to class prepared.
“Always have a plan and believe in it. Nothing good happens by accident.” — Chuck Knox, NFL football coach
Use a three-ring binder instead of a spiral or bound book. Pages can be easily removed for reviewing. Handouts can be inserted into your notes for cross-referencing. You can insert your own out-of-class notes in the correct order (Ellis).
Bring highlighters to class. Instructors will frequently make comments like, “This is an important concept.” Or, “Make sure you understand this.” These are direct clues that this will more than likely be on an exam. Highlighting these notes will help remind you later that this is definitely something you need to know.
Read assigned material and previous class notes before class. Make notations about material or concepts you don’t understand. Look up vocabulary words that are unfamiliar to you. You will have a better understanding about what the instructor is lecturing about and that will allow you to better decipher the more important points of the lecture.
- Improve your listening skills.
“Learn how to listen and you will prosper even from those who talk badly.” — Plutarch (A.D. 46 – 120). Greek biographer and philosopher
Start by entering the classroom with a positive attitude. Going to class thinking, “This is the last place I want to be today” only sets the stage for inattentive listening. Approaching lectures with a positive attitude allows one to be open-minded and enables you to get the most out of the information presented.
Make a conscious effort to pay attention. Concentrate on concentrating. “Without concentration there is no focus, and without focus there is no learning” (Pauk 190).
Adapt to whatever direction a lecture takes. When a lecture takes an unexpected detour, say a student asks a question you aren’t particularly interested in, students have a tendency to “zone out.” Before you know it, the lecture got back on track five minutes ago, and you missed crucial information that should have been noted.
- Develop a notetaking method that works for you.
“Learn, compare, collect the facts.” – Ivan Petrovic Pavlov (1849 – 1936), Russian physiologist.
Fine-tune the structure and organization of your notes to increase your notetaking speed and comprehension later.
Start each new lecture on a new page, and date and number each page. The sequence of material is important.
Write on one side of the paper only. You can set them out side-by-side for easier reviewing when studying for an exam.
Leave blank spaces. This allows you to add comments or note questions later.
Make your notes as brief as possible. “Never use a sentence when you can use a phrase, or a phrase when you can use a word” (Berkeley).
Develop a system of abbreviations and symbols you can use wherever possible.
Note all unfamiliar vocabulary or concepts you don’t understand. This reminds you to look them up later.
- Pay close attention to content.
“There is a great difference between knowing a thing and understanding it.” – Charles Kettering (1876 – 1958), American electrical engineer and inventor
Knowing what and how much to write down is sometimes difficult. Rely on some of the following tips for what to include in your notes. Details, facts, or explanations that expand or explain the main points that are mentioned. Don’t forget examples.
Definitions, word for word.
Enumerations or lists of things that are discussed.
Material written on the chalkboard or on a transparency, including drawings or charts.
Information that is repeated or spelled out. (University of Texas at Austin)
- Review and edit your notes.
“Ideas won’t keep; something must be done about them.” – Alfred North Whitehead (1861 – 1947), English mathematician and philosopher
Academic skills centers and other authorities on effective study skills consider reviewing and editing class notes to be the most important part of notetaking and essential to increasing learning capacity. It is extremely important to review your notes within 24 hours.
Edit for words and phrases that are illegible or don’t make sense. Write out abbreviated words that might be unclear later.
Edit with a different colored pen to distinguish between what you wrote in class and what you filled in later.
Fill in key words and questions in the left-hand column.
Note anything you don’t understand by underlining or highlighting to remind you to ask the instructor.
Compare your notes with the textbook reading and fill in important details in the blank spaces you left.
Consider rewriting or typing up your notes. (Ellis).
To research this topic I reviewed several texts and on-line web sites that gave suggestions as to how students could become more effective learners and methods of study that could accomplish this. The importance of class notetaking was emphasized over and over. By looking at many different suggestions and notetaking guidelines, I compiled a list of top 5 tips for effective notetaking that will enhance students’ learning abilities and improve their college success.
Students sometimes have a hard time making the transition from high school to college. Students who did extremely well in high school may find themselves struggling in college. Part of this can be due to increased freedom and now having to structure their own time, rather than having it done for them. Also, many students don’t do as well because the style of teaching is so different. High school instructors rely more on textbook learning, whereas college professors rely more on lecture. Students find themselves inadequately prepared for this new style of teaching and have to rethink their study habits and skills in order to succeed.
A relatively easy way for students to improve their retention and comprehension is by learning how to effectively take notes. Several studies have been done on the importance of taking lecture notes in college and how doing so improves a student’s grades. First, it is important to understand why taking notes is so crucial. A person’s ability to remember material presented to them fades very quickly.
According to Walter Pauk (84), people lose their retention at the following rates:
20 minutes 47% forgotten
1 day 62% forgotten
2 days 69% forgotten
75 days 75% forgotten
78 days 78% forgotten
Hence, having notes to fall back on for review is essential for attaining good grades.
Notetaking, in addition to helping retention, allows students to become effective learners. George Dudycha, a professor of psychology at Wittenberg College states, “The taking of notes facilitates learning. When one takes notes he attends to what is said and done; he analyzes and thinks rapidly about what he sees and hears; and finally he records his observations. Attending to, analyzing, and doing something about a class lecture means the student is actively engaged in those activities that are essential to effective learning.” He goes on to say that notes are “the cues that stimulate recall.” (179-180).
College academic and learning skill centers actively promote the use of notetaking in lectures to improve a student’s learning capabilities:
NOTETAKING is one way to enhance listening, and using a systematic approach to the taking and reviewing of your notes can add immeasurably to your understanding and remembering the content of lectures. (Berkeley).
It’s a simple fact of academic survival – the best students take the best notes! Notes not only aid comprehension, but they also make learning active and, most importantly, make study time more efficient, especially during end-of- the semester review sessions for final exams. (Colgate University).
Effective notetaking is an essential part of any successful academic study program. It is a high level skill, involving such complex cognitive processes as analyzing, synthesizing, writing, evaluating, and reviewing. But more than anything else, it requires active listening. (University of Texas at Austin).
Taking notes consistently in a predetermined format allows a student to get the most out of class lectures. Something as simple as having the right materials and keeping up with the class reading assignments is the first step to effective notetaking.
The University of Texas at Austin Learning Skills Center encourages its students to have a positive attitude. “A positive attitude toward your course means assuming that the material is worth learning and not prejudging the material or the instructor. Rather than tuning out, encourage yourself with positive messages.”
Not everyone processes information the same way, so it is important for students to develop methods and strategies that work the best for them. Using a trial and error approach can help a student fine tune what type of structure and organization works best for them.
Students sometimes have a difficult time knowing what to write down during a lecture. Knowing some specific content items they should look for will help them. As they get more proficient at their notetaking, which will happen over time, it will be easier for them to weed out what is important and what is not.
Probably the most emphasized suggestion for effective notetaking is reviewing and editing one’s notes. Few students do this and it is considered by all academic skills centers and other authorities on effective study skills to be the most important part of effective notetaking and essential to increasing one’s learning capacity. Taking the time to review and edit one’s notes as soon as possible after a class will reap tremendous rewards later when it comes time to study for an exam.
Relatively few students know the importance of taking effective notes and how much it can improve their retention and comprehension of lecture material. By following a few simple guidelines on how to take notes effectively, a student can improve their college GPA, and relieve a lot of stress when it comes time to study for and take an exam.
By Vivinette K. Dietsche