Note Taking: Tips for Student Success

Note Taking: Tips for Student Success

Whether listening to a lecture or reading a textbook, successful students will organize the onslaught of new information for effectively filing in their brains. Effectively filing is the key.

Like any filing system the “user,” in this case, the student, should be able to locate the file and search the contents at will. Here are some successful note taking tips. Remember everyone learns differently, so choose the style of note taking that keeps the information most accessible to the learner.

  • Before class or reading an assignment, prepare a sheet of paper for Cornell notes. In the open area at the top of the sheet, document the class, date, and a word or phrase indicating the topic. Save an area at the bottom of your page for asking questions. Mark off this area with a bold horizontal line across the page about 5 or 6 lines up from the bottom. Make a vertical line a couple of inches from the left side of the paper from the top down to your horizontal line that marked the question space. As you listen to the lecture or read, take notes in the large box remaining on the right side of the paper. Skip a line between notes. Afterwards, review the notes. Pick out any vocabulary words, concepts, or ideas that jump out at you and write them on the left side of your vertical line. In the question box at the bottom of the page, ask questions about things you are unclear of or any questions inspired by the information that may not necessarily have been covered.
  • Use graphic organizers. For comparing and contrasting two things, try a “t chart.” When the teacher says, “Let’s compare…,” quickly make a lower case “t” on your note paper. At the top of the “t” write on the left side one of the two things you’re comparing and label the right side with the second thing being compared. Use the longer space at the bottom to list the corresponding characteristics. For instance, if you were comparing felines on the left to canines on the right, on the left side you might note “retractable claws” and on the left “claws non-retract.” Notice on the right side, I abbreviated the word I had just used on the left. Another good comparison tool is a Venn Diagram. Make two circles that intersect or overlap in the center. In the portion of the two circles that overlap, list characteristics common to both things being compared. Label and use the remaining portion of each circle to put characteristics unique to that one thing. Comparing cats and dogs again, “claws” would be in the overlapping portion of the circle because both animals have claws. “Retractable” would be on the cat side and “Non-retractable” would be on the dog side. Web graphics are helpful to see relationships among several different things or ideas. Put the topic of the lecture or selected reading in a circle in the middle of the page. Extend lines like spokes going out from this center circle. At the end of each line, put a different main idea covered and circle it. Some people also use different shapes or colors at different levels of the graphic to clarify the degree it is to the central topic. Each spoke out from the center becomes a hub for a new set of spokes with the supporting information for that idea. Some of the supporting facts may relate to two or more main ideas. Supporting facts may be linked by spokes to multiple main ideas. Many other graphic organizers are available. Find one you like or create one of your own.
  • Use abbreviations and symbols. The first time you encounter a word, write the whole thing out, but after that abbreviate it. These notes are for you! Engage your mind to create your own shortcuts that have meaning for you. Some simple examples are B4 instead of writing out “before,” a triangle of dots for “therefore,” or “comm” for community.
  • Use pictures. A quick simple pair of eyeglasses in the margin can remind you to look over this section again later. A series of pictures can represent the flow of something: measure, cut, hammer. Cycles of things such as life cycles or water cycles are often depicted with pictures. Later, when you want to retrieve this information from your filing system, you visualize the picture and can go through the details.
  • Personalize your notes. First and foremost, make your notes Your Notes. Personalizing the information can be fun and silly or it can be strictly serious business and formal. The key is that you, the student, are invested in it. You own it.
  • When studying, consider taking notes on your notes. You might have started out with Cornell notes, but later noticed a lot of comparisons so you could go back and reorganize the notes into graphic organizers. Maybe you took notes from the selected reading one way and then in the lecture you used another format. As you study, find the synergy between the two sets and combine them into one set.

The whole purpose of note taking is to learn the information presented. File it away in your mind in a manner that you like and will be accessible to you after the lecture and the text are long gone.

For more information about learning and school success, contact us, The Tenney School, a private school in Houston. We strive to help all students reach their maximum potential.