Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Note Taking Tips

I taught COL101, College Success Seminar, for the first time this August. This is the orientation to college course, and I have wanted to teach it for a while now. As expected, it was a very fun and interesting class to teach. It is condensed, but we were able to cover what is expected of college students, how to understand a syllabus, the different degree options, setting goals and dreams, time management, money management, energy/health tips, critical thinking, and study and note-taking skills. Sprinkled in were tours of campus and various departments around campus that would be important to their success.

Far and away, the most asked questions were about how to take notes. I thought it might be helpful to post some ideas on note-taking early in the semester. So, here goes:

Traditional Tips -
  • First - make sure you read the assigned reading BEFORE going to class. This will help you recognize what is in the book as opposed to new information being given during class.
  • Make note of ideas, concepts, keywords, and definitions that are repeated.
  • Watch for keywords and concepts written on the board.
  • Make sure you sit where you can hear and see easily and not be distracted.
  • Compare notes with a classmate and fill in any holes.
  • Review notes soon after class in order to see if clarification is needed and reinforce what you've just been presented.
  • Email the professor if you are unclear or missed a point during class.
Methods -  Non-Traditional Tips -
  • If you carry a laptop to class
    • Use an electronic notebook like Evernote or OneNote. They allow images, links, and other media to be embedded in a page of notes and help with organization.
    • Improve typing speed, skills, and take advantage of keyboard shortcuts to increase efficiency.
  • Start a class blog, wiki, or Facebook group and pool notes among classmates.
  • If you can use a cell phone in class
    • Take notes on your phone. If you are like me, you can type (even on a cell phone) much faster than you can write. It is also much easier to read.
    • This is one place where you can use texting language and abbreviations for class and it may be very helpful.
    • Start a class hashtag and tweet your notes. Again, if other classmates do the same thing, you can pool your notes easily.
Memory Aids -
You can create your own mnemonics and acronyms or use ones that you might find in your textbook or online. One of the first that I remember learning is FACE for the notes of the spaces on the treble clef. Then Every Good Boy Does Fine for the line notes. In my desktop publishing class, we use the CRAP method for design - Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity.

Have fun, use humor, rhymes, raps, and music to help you remember important information. Put your own words to a familiar melody.

When I took British Literature in college, it was not one of my favorite classes. One thing we had to do for each test was write 12 lines of poetry from what we had studied. I was terrible at this, but my roommate found a song that helped. We could choose the poem we recounted, so she and I chose Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The reason? She had an Iron Maiden tape with the song. It was genius! It was the highest score of all of my tests, though I'm sure we looked odd bobbing our heads as we were running through the song and writing the lines. Here it is -

You gotta do what you gotta do. When I was in graduate school, I was a little more traditional and academic (and my GPA was higher). Within a day or two, I would type my notes taken in class. I would also outline my chapters and put the outlines with the notes. The act of revisiting the information repeatedly helped the most, but I also have terrible handwriting, so typing everything made it much easier to study.

Figure out what works best for you. If you have a great note-taking method, please share it!


  1. Just so you know, I am borrowing this..much more creative than what I came up with for my COL-101 class...

  2. I love this! Thanks for all the hard work put into your blog.