Even the most organized and disciplined college student will tell you that staying on top of all the information that comes your way on a daily basis is a challenge. Here are some helpful note-taking tips sourced from student academic services departments around the country.
1) Use a binder and standard 8.5- by 11-inch college-ruled loose-leaf paper that’s three-hole-punched for ongoing organization and easy review. Spiral notebooks are more limiting and don’t allow you to reshuffle your notes or insert new material after the fact.
2) Keep each class in a separate binder, and write on only one side of the paper for better organization and efficiency. This prevents flipping back and forth and ensures you won’t overlook material written on the back of a sheet.
3) Be discerning and discriminating when taking notes in class. Don’t write down everything your professor says. Learn to glean the key point, and record that. Only write down information you won’t have access to later in a book, handout, set of slides, etc.
4) If you miss a key piece of information or don’t understand something, leave a blank space in your notes. This prompts you to fill it in later once you’ve consulted with your instructor or classmates.
5) Keep a list of questions as you take notes. This makes it easy to follow up with your professor, or to ask a question at the end of the lecture.
6) Review and reinforce the material immediately after class. Perform a quick scan and edit of your notes shortly after class to add any important details and help integrate the material. This important habit allows you to organize your notes and make any changes while the course material is still fresh in your mind.
7) Use visual reinforcement to draw attention to important terms, dates, definitions, and anything else of relevance that you read in a book or hear spoken in class. Color code your notes with highlighters, and use symbols such as asterisks to emphasize what is most important to remember. Draw charts, diagrams, or illustrations if it helps you help internalize the material you’re learning.
8) Handwrite your notes in class, and type them up later. Researchers find that the kinesthetic and visual stimulation that occurs when you write by hand helps you better understand and remember the material in a way that typing does not. Another advantage is that typing them up at day’s end lets you further refine and review your notes to reinforce learning and integration.
9) Organize your notes into digital desktop folders and documents. You might make a new folder for each semester that contains a separate folder for each class inside. This lets you drop research, forms, images, and other electronic data into the appropriate class folders so everything important is in one easy-to-find location.
Easy-interface apps with flexible formats, such as Microsoft OneNote and Evernote, let you access your notes from any of your devices. The various sharing and collaboration tools are great for group projects.
10) Minimize distractions during class time and while studying. When you’re not writing during a lecture, keep your eyes focused on the professor or the board. This ensures that you’re paying close attention and won’t miss key points when they’re spoken.
Put away all electronic devices during study time, and log off of your social media sites. Keep a clean, tidy, and organized workstation that’s free of clutter and debris. Determine if you need absolute silence, white noise, or a specific type of music playing to get you into the study zone, and then create your optimal environment for maximum focus and scholastic success.