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Note taking 101

It may seem like a no-brainer, but having good note-taking skills can be one of the most helpful habits a college student can acquire. Knowing how to take good notes is important because much of the material presented during lectures will show up on exams. If you know how to record this material properly, you will be able to spend less time stressing about exams and have a better chance of achieving the grades you want.

The right materials

An important but often overlooked part of note taking is having the proper materials. A separate spiral notebook with pockets for each class is a wise choice. If you’re taking notes for English, you don’t want to be scrambling for the page you left off on 10 minutes into a lecture because it’s jumbled between pages of history and philosophy. Notes should be easily accessible, separated and organized. The pocket can be used for handouts received in class.

Another option is a separate three-ring binder for each class. This gives you room to add in extra handouts given in class, as well as notes from a missed class. Remember to include dividers in your notebooks with each section carefully marked. You should have a section for test preparation (notes and class handouts), a section for past quizzes and tests and a section for miscellaneous materials, such as extra credit assignments.

Knowing how to listen

As far as listening goes, it’s important to remember to make the most of your time in class. You have to focus on what your professor is saying. Studies show that humans recall only about 50 percent of what they hear, and 20 to 30 percent of that information is incorrect. If you just come to class and sit there, you’re not going to learn.

The best way to do this is to sit as close to the professor as you can. This will make it easier for you to hear and see the information the professor is presenting. It will also help keep you on your toes in case you get called upon to answer a question.

Now that you’re alert, be sure you are keeping up with the professor. If you’re careful, you will be able to decipher the relevant information by understanding why the information your professor is telling you is important. Making sure you understand a main thought or idea and then linking the information to something important in your life will help you to better organize your thoughts.

Most importantly, take notes while you’re listening. This is going to help you remember things later. Even if the information seems easy, it is amazing how much more you will remember if you’re jotting down ideas and terms while you’re listening.

Deciding what’s important

As far as important information goes, copying down anything the professor writes on the board or displays on an overhead projector is a good idea. Summaries given at the end of class and reviews given at the beginning of class are a good indicator of material that needs to be written down. Many times, your professor won’t take the time to go over material if it’s not going to appear on an exam.

During a lecture, listen for key words and phrases by being sensitive to repeated words and changes in the tone of your professor’s voice. Don’t be afraid to ask your professor to repeat a phrase if you think you missed it.

Keeping notes organized

Keep in mind while you’re taking your notes that you will be going over them later. Don’t make them too long and drawn out. Write your notes down in short phrases and words. Separate words and phrases into sections by numbering the sections. Make sure your handwriting is clear and the phrases are spaced apart so your notes are easy to study later. If you’re worried about time, consider abbreviating words. Just make sure you’ll be able to understand your abbreviations later.

At the end of class, don’t forget to take a couple of minutes to quickly go over your notes and add in things you might have left out. Going over your notes and making sure they make sense to you is the only way the information will last in your memory.

There are some alternatives and accessories to pen and paper notes. If you’re faster at typing, use a laptop or palm pilot. Another good method for keeping up is to record lectures. This will guarantee that you don’t miss a word of the lecture and will also stimulate your sense of hearing.

Whatever method you use, it’s important to realize that taking notes is about you and your own personal way of learning. If you’re unsure what works for you, try a variety of different methods until you find a style that fits you best.