I’m not going to lie; I was never the best note taker. But sometimes the best way to learn something is to learn what not to do. So here are four of my biggest mistakes that you should avoid:
Don’t Doodle a picture of a cat – or a picture of anything really. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I looked back on my notes to read something like:
“-1967 (Followed by a picture of a cat…on fire)”
The tip is to focus. If you’re doodling, then you’re not paying attention. Notes are not about learning the subject later, but about reminding yourself what you already know. I know how to draw a pretty good fiery cat, but I don’t need a reminder of that. Save the art for art class.
*Editors note: In grade 7 my teacher asked me to never take another art class again… She was a cat lover.
Don’t Use the Internet. Period. When I brought my laptop to school to take notes, I figured the Internet would be a great source for looking up vocabulary and finding out more information on the topic.
Instead I planned a trip to Tokyo, became an expert on David Bowie, and researched a pet dog.
The trip was great, David Bowie’s awesomeness was confirmed, I realized I’m not suitable to take care of a plant let alone a dog and I nearly lost my mind when it came time to study for midterms.
Computers are kind of evil at times. The tip here is to eliminate distractions. If you’re multitasking while you’re supposed to be writing about one specific subject your notes will be as sporadic as your Google searches.
Don’t Rely on your Memory. This point seems a little redundant seeing as how the point of note taking is to refresh your memory later. To be more specific, don’t rely on your memory for organizational details, like the date of the class or the subject.
I once read my notes about a leader who wanted to take over the world and who made a great mistake when he invaded Russia. I walked into my oral test thinking I was well versed to talk all about Hitler. Had I dated the class and wrote the subject, I would have known that the few notes I had were actually describing Napoleon.
The tip here is to pay attention to organizational details. By paying attention to details like dating the lecture, or writing specific examples you will save yourself a lot of time when you start studying. If you don’t pay attention to these details, studying will be like trying to piece together a puzzle…In which case you might not get the whole picture.
Don’t Write Every Detail. All this being said, I was actually a pretty good (if slightly lazy) student. I was in advanced classes, went to a prestigious university, and graduated from a highly competitive program. Basically my academic career has always put me in competition with my peers. I’ll never forget the day when my best friend turned to me with frustration and said:
“I don’t get it! I have the whole lecture written out, and in a month you’ve barely written a page. I sit beside you as you research Paris (another great trip by the way) and you still get a way better mark. It’s not fair”
It wasn’t fair, she was working harder, but I came off smarter. I was able to catch key words as my teacher spoke and from those key words I could remember a lot of information. My friend was so concerned with every word she couldn’t decipher what was important
The point of this tip is to be confident. Writing every detail is just going to slow you down. You know what is important and what is not, so focus on key words and key ideas to build off of later. Work smarter, not harder.