Note Taking 101: How to Master Taking Notes During Class

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Sitting in class and listening to a lecture packed full of information can be a little overwhelming, especially when you have to take notes on everything that the professor covers. With so much new knowledge being introduced to you at once, how can you retain it all?

As a nursing student, learning to take quality notes is the key to obtaining all of the information you need from a lecture in order to be successful. We are offering some tips to help you master taking notes during class.

Write, Don’t Type

With the rise of technology in the classroom in recent years, many students have taken to typing their notes instead of handwriting them. Since most people can type faster than they can write, students who take notes on a laptop often end up with more notes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are learning more.

Studies have shown that students who take notes on a laptop actually perform worse on conceptual questions than students who take notes by hand. Researchers believe this is because laptop-users tend to take notes verbatim, typing out every word the professor says during a lecture, whereas students who take notes by hand have to rephrase and summarize information in order to keep up with the lecture. This process of digesting and summarizing the information while taking notes helps with comprehension and retention of the information.

To get the most out of your notes, swap out your laptop for a good old-fashioned pencil and paper combo. If you have to take notes digitally during a lecture, try rewriting them by hand after class is over to reap some of the comprehension benefits.

Find a Format That Works For You

There are tons of different formats for note taking, and each one has its own benefits. Some methods may work better for you and your learning style than others, so it is important to find the one that is going to help you gather information the best.

We’re sharing a quick overview of some formats below!

  • The Cornell Method: Divide your paper into two columns: a small one on the left for writing out main ideas, prompts, and questions, and a larger column on the right reserved for notes and details. At the bottom of each page, write a quick summary of the information on that page.
  • The Outline Method: Use headings and bullet points to put information into a hierarchy. Indent to the right as your notes become more detailed and shift back to the left for each new main topic.
  • The Mapping Method: Each main topic gets its own page for notes. Draw lines and boxes to branch out from the main topic to write subtopics and add finer details below or around each subtopic heading.
  • The Charting Method: Divide your paper into columns and label them by topic or idea. Fill out the details of each topic below.

For a more in-depth look at the different methods and their unique benefits, check out this article. It outlines some popular note taking methods and pairs them with great examples. Then, try out some of the formats that seem interesting to you to determine which one suits your needs. You may even want to use different formats for different subjects depending on the information that you have to process.

Prioritize Information You Can’t Get Elsewhere

It’s pretty near impossible to write down every single detail, definition, and diagram that is presented to you during a lecture. In order to take good notes, you need to prioritize what information is worth writing down. In fact, one of the best things you can do to become a more efficient note-taker is to learn what NOT to take notes on. Yes, you read that correctly. Not everything needs to be included in your notes.

Prioritize taking notes on information that you can’t get after class or from another resource. Things the professor talks about such as stories, examples and answers to questions are often valuable learning materials that aren’t typed out in their presentation, so it’s more important to jot these down than a definition that you can look up in your book later. At the beginning of class, ask if the presentation will be made available to you afterward so you know what you can safely omit from your notes for the time being.

Make It Colorful

If you find it easy to get lost in all of the text on the page while studying your notes, brighten them up a bit by using different colored pens or highlighters. Colors are a very versatile tool when it comes to organizing information. Try using one color for each main point and its corresponding details to keep everything together, or try developing a color-coded system for different categories of information (ex. red is for a main idea, blue is for details, green is for a definition). Not only is this a great way to help you organize your notes, but the visual variation can also help make those long study sessions a bit more bearable.

Keep It Brief

Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with the professor when taking notes, especially if you have one that talks quickly. Stay in the game by making your notes as brief as possible while writing them. Abbreviate any words that you can and try using acronyms or other key words for terms that appear frequently in the lecture. You can always go back and revise your notes later to write out the full words and phrases

Re-Write or Type Notes After Class

Speaking of revising, going back through your notes after class and typing them up or re-writing them can have huge benefits when it comes to your learning. Viewing all of the information a second time can help you to retain more of it, and cleaning up your notes during this revision will make it easier to study them again later on.

Keep in mind, re-writing is not the same thing as copying. Taking the exact same set of notes again word for word will not do nearly as much to help you comprehend and retain the material. Instead, look at re-writing or typing up your notes as an editing process: Fill in missing definitions or phrases, fix sentences that don’t make sense, reorganize points for better flow, and summarize what you learned at the end to truly enhance your learning.

Compare Finished Notes with Friends

After finalizing all of your own notes, meet up with classmates to compare what you each took away from the lecture. You may find that someone else took notes over an important point or example that you missed, and you may be able to help some of your peers in return.

Want more tips to help you rock this semester? Check out 5 Habits to Adopt Now and Start Your Semester Off Right.

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