Carlos and Cecilia were both straight-A students in middle school. But now that they’re in high school, Carlos finds himself relying on Cecilia’s notes to do well on tests. He also finds himself wondering how Cecilia manages to take such good notes.
Note-taking is a skill that can help you do well on all your schoolwork — everything from taking tests to researching a paper. But unfortunately, most schools don’t have classes that teach you how to take notes. So here are some tips.
Write down key facts. If you have a teacher who writes notes on the board, that’s a bonus: You can copy them down. If not, write down the most important points from class. Does your history teacher mention the date of a key Civil War battle? Does your English teacher give examples of Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony? Does your math teacher go over a particular formula? Write it down!
It can take some experimenting to figure out what information really is helpful, so keep trying and don’t give up. Different teachers do things differently. For example, some teachers may mention lots of dates and facts in class but only write the key ones on the board. Other teachers may not write anything down, but they may repeat a certain date or piece of information. That’s a clue that it’s probably important. After a while, you’ll get to know a teacher’s style.
Don’t overdo it. Don’t go crazy taking notes, though: You’ll be frantic if you try to write down every word that’s said in class. And if you focus too much on getting your notes right, you might miss important points. Some people actually learn better by listening, writing down a few key points, and then going over the material after class when they have more time.
Ask. Don’t be afraid to ask the teacher to repeat something you miss. If the teacher’s going too fast, chances are your classmates will also be relieved to hear the information again. If you don’t want to ask in class, see your teacher afterwards. It’s much easier than wondering if you got the notes right as you study.
Compare. Keep your notes handy when you’re doing your reading assignments. Compare what you wrote with what the readings say — you may even want to add to your notes as you read.
Going over your notes with a friend and comparing what the two of you put down can help reinforce what you’re learning. It also can help you remember information when it’s time for the test. And going over your notes will alert you and your friend to any errors.
Copy. Depending on how neat your handwriting is, you may want to recopy your notes when you get home. If you’ve taken notes in a hurry, you’re more likely to figure out an unreadable word or sentence on the day of the lesson than you are weeks later when you look back over your notes in preparation for a test.
Organize. Keep notes for each subject in one place so you can find everything easily when it comes time for a test. That may mean keeping a notebook or section of a notebook for each subject as you take notes in class.
Some people combine the copying technique with organization by using just one notebook for class notes and then copying these notes into a notebook for each subject when they get back home. The trick to making this technique work is to be sure you actually do it regularly. If you don’t, your notes will be all over the place and things will get totally crazed when it’s time to study for the test.
Good note-taking requires extra time and organization. It may help if you think of the time you spend reviewing notes as an investment. For example, if you decide to recopy your notes each evening, you’ll probably have less time to watch TV or IM friends. But you’ll save time later when it comes to studying for the actual test.
Note-taking gives your mind a chance to absorb the material it needs to learn. Not only can this help you to do better on a test, it’s also a great confidence booster when you’re studying and find yourself saying, “Hey, I remember that!”
Reviewed by: Chris Cortellessa, M.Ed, NCC
Date reviewed: January 2012