We’re at that time again, the time when half the nation has already started school and the other half is gearing up to. A new school year is just as great a reason to have some resolutions as a new year is, and probably the most common one is to commit to doing well in school. Different parts of that involves committing to doing your homework, to asking for help when you need it, to studying for tests, and to working ahead so you don’t leave assignments to the last minute. But before you get to any of that, you need to focus on what’s going on in your classes and learning from them. And the biggest part of that is note taking. Your notes set the tone for what you take away from your classes and carry to your homework and then your assessments. They help you prepare for tests and essays and they can clarify any questions you have outside of class. So let’s talk about how you can take the best notes possible this year.
Materials needed – I strongly advise taking notes by hand, so you need a notebook and writing utensils. There is actually research showing that note taking by hand helps you retain things better than typing does, and if you’re taking notes on a computer or tablet, you might get tempted to do things other than focus on class. Of course, if your handwriting is completely atrocious or you have an issue with your hand(s), you don’t really have a choice.
As for the notebook and utensils you use, I know that I’m very particular with the type of pens that I use. My handwriting is generally bad, but especially so when I’m trying to write down what’s going on in class and things are moving quickly. I’ve had to stop using ballpoint and gel pens because both of them make it very easy for my words to blend into each other. But I don’t have this problem with felt-tip pens, like those from Papermate*, Stabilo*, and Staedtler*. Plus, I like colorful notes.
Important parts of your notes – There’s more to note taking than just writing down what your teacher or professor say during class. You should write down the things that seem important, especially anything that the teacher writes down on the board or has on a PowerPoint or something similar. If you have any questions, write them down, too. If you don’t feel comfortable asking someone to answer the questions for you – whether in class or out – make a note to look up the answer later. And you don’t have to write what the lecturer is saying or writing word-for-word or write in complete sentences; these notes are for you to understand. It’s more important that you write everything you need in incomplete sentences than it is that you write exactly what the lecturer says.
Your notes should include: the date, the lecture’s focus, headers featuring the lecture’s subtopics, and the information that goes under those subtopics. If something is important, underline it or draw a star next to it. Ask questions. Write notes to yourself such as, “Reminds me of [x] in [x].” Engage with the information as well as writing it down.
Types of note taking methods – Some people find it easier to keep track of the information they write and to better understand the material by using a specific method of taking notes. Here’s a whole page about different methods, including Cornell, Outline, Mapping, and Charting. I tend to go with outlining, and I do this with just bullet points or with numbers and letters. It’s really up to the individual to decide how to do things, and I suggest trying multiple methods to figure out what helps you the most. They’re your notes, so it’s entirely up to you to decide what to go with. And you can always change your mind!
I also suggest rewriting your notes sometimes if they get too messy. By going back to them and rewriting them – or typing them up – you’ll review the information and also pull it together to be more useful in the future. I see this a lot on Studyblrs (which I’ll get to in a minute), but it isn’t always feasible. If you follow me on Instagram and Snapchat, you’ll know that my hand has been a big issue recently. It physically can’t handle me going back to rewrite my notes after every class, even by typing them up. Plus, between my school work, working, blogging, working on my writing projects, and my health, I don’t have the time or energy to do it. If that’s the case for you, you could also try just reading back over your notes later, or even highlighting them or adding to them.
Pretty notes for inspiration and other resources – I was SO pleased to discover Studyblrs, or Tumblr accounts that are all about school. They share resources as well as pictures of pretty workspaces, which makes me want to make pretty workspaces and pretty notes or outlines. And since I always work better with a clear surface, that helps to up my productivity. You should also check out Seventeen’s post 13 Pretty Pictures of Class Notes That Will Inspire You. The Studyblrs I follow are Study and Tea, The Organised Student, Paper and Caffeine, and Study Harder.