Tips for Note Taking #2

Hi everyone, this is JB’s older brother, Mr.Harvey.  Teacher Man and JB have graciously given me the opportunity to write a few articles for them.  Now for a little about myself…

Upon graduation from high school I moved to Ontario to pursue my university degree at the University of Waterloo.  I completed UW’s honours co-op program (the largest in the world) with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering.  I spent my third year of university abroad as part of an international exchange program.  Based on my experiences, my contributions to the site will focus on: co-op education, international exchange, resumes, interviews, and general university tips.  For my first article, I am going to expand on JB’s “Tips for Note Taking” article.

note taking

At the end of the article JB mentioned that I did very well in school without studying much.  This was true as far as my high school education went – the courses were easy and I ended up helping/teaching my friends.  Needless to say, I became pretty cocky and took the same study approach to university, leading to an outstanding 60% average by Christmas time of first term.  This was especially hard to swallow because I had finished high school with a 95% average.  I landed in my situation not as a result of the material being too difficult, or different standards across provinces, but entirely because I didn’t know how to study or take notes.

To reiterate some of JB’s important points quickly:

1. Take notes with paper and pen – laptops are too distracting and don’t lend well.  Every class I was in required something to be drawn or written down on paper.  Writing also helps with remembering what is being taught.

2. Stay organized – date every lecture.  Not only does it help with sharing, it makes it easier to spot lectures you’ve missed.

3. Review your notes – it doesn’t take long, probably 30 minutes a day, and the payoff is well worth it.  Do not wait until the end of the week to do it because you will probably be in a rush to go home, or to take a nap.

Note Taking – Stationary Start

The looseleaf/binder method is an efficient one that I used for a year.  The greatest benefit is how well it facilitates reviewing your notes at the end of the day.  I eventually abandoned it because I would wait until the end of the week to organize my notes and the mess would accumulate.  Let’s face it – on Friday afternoon, activities such as napping were much more appealing than reading old notes, filing them, and tracking down missing ones.

Eventually, one of my friends convinced me to use a note book instead and the Hilroy 200-page single subject notebook soon became a favourite.  Don’t cheap out on these bad boys; one subject = one notebook.  I thought I was being smart and economical by having multiple subjects in a Hilroy 400-pager.  My precious tome was eventually lent to another classmate to copy notes, who didn’t give it back in time (do they ever?).  Lesson learned: don’t keep all your eggs in one basket, or your notes in one notebook.

Note Taking – One-Stop Shop

Classes in the morning, tutorials and labs in the afternoon – everything was scheduled for me at Waterloo.  If your faculty plans everything out for you like your mother, you are in luck.  We took our notebook for our morning lectures and took our notes starting from the front of the book.  In the afternoon we went to the tutorials, flipped the notebook over and started on the next assignment from the back of the notebook.  Can’t remember how to do the question?  Flip the notebook over and review your notes.  You can also easily reference a previous day’s notes in case you forgot what the professor is talking about.

Refreshing Habits

Notebooks make it easier for you to get lazy about reviewing your notes because everything is already filed nicely, allowing you to just forget about them.  In science/math courses, assignments typically follow one week after the lectures.  So prior to starting an assignment a good idea would be to re-read the week’s worth of notes and attempt to do the assignment from memory as much as possible.  This is a compromise from refreshing every night, which is still the best way, and shouldn’t doesn’t take much more than 30 minutes for a 5-course load.

Prose for the Pros

You don’t have to have the most beautiful writing, or be like my wife and practice calligraphy as a hobby, but you have to be able to read your own writing.  Yes, I think I can read my own writing too, but honestly, I can’t most of the time.  When you re-read your notes the subject will still be relatively fresh, so you will be remembering what you wrote and not actually reading it.  Come finals, you will be thankful that you took the time in the first place to write clean and concise notes.  How do you know if you take good notes? If no one asks you for your notes, or only asks once, chances are you can do a better job.

Avoid Study Elbow

Consider spending some money on a decent pen if you feel like your arm is about to fall off after a long day of note-taking.  With a nice, smooth pen, it’s doing most of the work for you and you can focus on what you’re writing instead of exerting force to get that ink going.  Sure those cheap or free pens are tempting, but sometimes it’s just not worth it, kind of like dollar store spam.  Look into gel or ink pens, especially ones with a comfortable cushy grip.  You’ll be thankful when you’re scrambling to copy all the notes you’ve missed before that mid-term or racing to finish your third exam of the day.  Added bonus: your handwriting will likely improve with a well-flowing pen.

All in all note taking in class is a pretty personal activity; everyone develops their own style.  With these two posts I hope you can quickly discover what works best for you instead of developing it from scratch over a period of a few terms.

About Mr. Harvey

4 Responses to Tips for Note Taking #2

    • I completely agree. My organizational skills and note taking considerably improved once I left school. This was out of necessity as I tend to do multiple projects at once and have to refer back to my notes months afterwards to defend what I designed. Good notes and good handwriting in general is also more professional and will leave good first impressions.

  1. Physically writing notes down is critical to me. I see students with laptops but I could never type fast enough or organize notes on a laptop fast enough. But quick pics, graphs, and arrows? Easy with pen and paper.

    A new thing I’ve seen is students using their smartphones to record a lecture as well as to take pics of slides. This makes a bit of sense but I would still want to have my own notes to go back to. Let’s face it, who wants to hear the lecture again or flip through cellphone pics?

    Taking good notes does a lot to organize the brain to start remembering what was taught.

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