Taking notes was one of the most daunting things for me going into college.
I was homeschooled all throughout my schooling, apart from kindergarten (if that even counts), which means I had never had to take notes in my life before. I always just got to study at my own pace–I had never experienced a classroom setting before. I didn’t know how to take notes about things the teacher was saying, and I had no idea what I should be writing and what I shouldn’t! I was completely freaked out and thought I’d miss everything.
Turns out it’s really not all that hard once you get the hang of it, and I was perfectly fine after about 2 weeks. That being said, I know that there definitely are things to do to enhance your note-taking skills, and to help you take the most efficient but complete class notes possible.
The thing that I find makes my note-taking strategy different is that I am NOT a visual learner. I’m very much an auditory learner–if you discuss something with me and I hear you explaining something I’m much more likely to remember than if I just read it. For that reason, I like to have my notes as short as possible and focus the majority of my attention to listening with 100% of my attention on the professor.
That being said, taking notes has improved my academic experience and my marks as I started doing it the way I’m about to explain. If you’re in the same boat as me, and really learn better through listening and kind of struggle doing both things at once, I want to give you some tips that have helped me! So I’ve decided to compile a guide on how to take efficient notes that will be easy to study from and have all of the information you need!
So let’s go!
1. Read the slides before class
As you’ll see in the next few points, I take notes on the slides, so it’s imperative that I just skim the slides before class. When you have a general idea of what is coming up, you know whether or not you need to write that down or if it’s coming up in the next slide. You don’t want to take notes you don’t have to–that’s just wasting time that you could be actively engaging in the class.
2. Use headings
Whether you’re like me, and take notes in the “notes” section of the powerpoint slides themselves, by hand, or on Word on your laptop, use headings. This gives a framework that makes deciphering your notes later a lot easier, and allows for more short-handed scripts. For instance, in psychology classes often flip between discussing multiple disorders. So, in my notes, I may have one heading for everything “Anxiety”, and subheadings for all of the different anxiety disorders we’re talking about that day.
When I don’t use headings, and just type what my prof says that’s not on the slides based on WHEN she says it, it often looks something like this:
- Anxiety disorders are very common in children and often have lasting effects into adulthood
- selective mutism is found in children
- with GAD, a big tell is tension in the shoulders as a young kid. Often, GAD is described as feeling like there is an impending sense of doom not really attached to anything specific
- Selective mutism is often found in school settings
- Can be in sports settings. Not just school.
- Separation anxiety disorder is when kids are very anxious and significantly distressed when separated from parents
- Generalized Anxiety disorder = GAD
- With selective mutism therapy can be hard if kid doesn’t talk
- Diathesis-stress model of etiology of anxiety disorders accounts for biological and environmental factors
It doesn’t make much sense at all, eh? Here’s what it looks like when I type the same things but organize them differently:
- Anxiety disorders
- Very common in children
- Often have lasting effects into adulthood
- The Diathesis-stress model of etiology accounts for biological and environmental factors
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Impending sense of doom not really attached to anything specific
- a big tell is tension in the shoulders as a young kid
- Selective Mutism
- Found in children
- Often in school settings
- Can be in sports settings, too. Not just school
- Therapy can be hard if child does not talk
- Separation Anxiety Disorder
- When child is very anxious and significantly distressed when separated from parents
See how much easier that is to study from? Obviously that’s just a theoretical set of notes, but that’s pretty consistent with how mine tend to look.
When you’re in a class that uses slides, I tend to use the headings on the slides as my headings. In classes that are more discussion based, I make a new heading for every topic and start filing my notes under those headings. Find what works for you!
3. Get used to short hand
We waste time writing complete sentences when taking notes. It doesn’t matter if you have proper grammar, it just matters if it makes sense. See my notes above? I’m pretty sure only 20% of those are real sentences, and none of them are very good ones. But I can completely understand what they mean.
Are there certain words that are used a lot in your major? I write “psy” instead of psychology, psychologist, psychological, etc. I write the acronyms for all of the disorders (you will hardly ever see me write “generalized anxiety disorder” unless it’s on a paper–it’s just GAD in my notes), and when I’m taking notes by hand I have made some short-form words that are actually based on American Sign Language for lots of filler words (about, both, together, etc.).
Make sure that if you’re going to do short-hand, though, that it’s very obvious to you what those things mean. Often at the very top of the page I’ll have my little short-hand dictionary of any new words I’ve added.
4. Do not write down anything that is in the slides
Since you’re using headings, you shouldn’t have to re-iterate what’s in the slides to help with clarity or explanation. When you use headings and sub-headings, even the most obscure note like “In 67% of the population” has meaning, since you know that it’s under “Thinks-he’s-better-than-everyone syndrome” (made-up syndrome, obviousy).
If you’re writing something that’s in the slides (other than your headings), try organizing what you’re writing better with bullets. Trust
5. When taking notes, look at the overall picture
You don’t want your notes to be pages upon pages of information–your mind will just collapse in an exhausted mess of definitions and names and you’ll just end up crying and feeling like you can’t handle exams because it’s all just too much.
You want your notes to be efficient and to the point. Don’t go on lengthy discussions or explanations of points–just get the information you need.
If your prof goes on a rant about prevalence rates of kidney failure, all you need is the percentage and the general message he’s trying to get at. You don’t need anything else!
Obviously, with some professors you just need to write everything down. There’s no getting around it. But with the majority of professors I have not found this to be the case. Generally, if you understand what they’re talking about and can point out the major arguments for and against, you’re good!
6. Ditch the prettiness
This is not the time to colour-code or highlight. This is the time for efficiency and clarity. Then, when you re-write your notes or go back to study, make them organized by colour.
Because I take notes as someone who is an auditory learner, I hate taking extra time to colour code my notes right there in class. That just takes away from time where my attention is 100% attuned to the lecture at hand.
7. Stay focused
This is probably one of the most important tips I could give you. STAY FOCUSED IN CLASS. Whether or not you’re auditory learner, class-time is crucial for your academic success! Find that you get distracted by people on their laptops? Sit near the front. Take notes on your computer? Download the Self-Control App (free!), or turn off your wifi altogether. Do you know that you get tired? Then bring some gum or coffee to class. These really aren’t earth-shattering, but you need to make sure that you’re engaging the material in class in order to get the best results from your class.
There are my top tips for taking notes for class!
What are some things you’ve done that help? Are there any things that I missed?