Why Most Students Don’t Understand the Real Goal of Note-TakingAugust 9th, 2007 · 33 comments
College students know that note taking is important. Walk into any classroom and you are going see every student typing or jotting down something. But what are they capturing? And why?
If you ask an average undergraduate to describe the goal of note taking, he would answer: to capture the important information. Sounds reasonable…
If you ask a straight-A undergraduate, however, (which, in my infinite oddness, I have done many times), he would instead answer: to reduce my study time.
If you adopt this mindset, you can shave serious time from your studying efforts. My informal estimate is that for each hour of class in which you take notes with the reduced study time mindset, you will shave 20-30 minutes from the time required to prepare for an “A” performance on a test.
How does this mindset work? Here is some advice to help you adopt this way of thinking.
The Three Laws of Reduced Study Time Note Taking
- Never Record Raw Information
The most time-consuming piece of studying is processing the information into the ideas and frameworks which will help you compose intelligent answers on an exam. Raw facts are useless for college-level essay questions. To reduce the time required to study, you must try to do as much thinking and processing of the information as possible while still in the classroom. You’re there anyways, you might as well make the most of it! Don’t record what the professor says, record the importance of what he says. The only thing that should go into your notebook is processed information. When it comes time to study, your task becomes one of review, not thinking, and this saves significant time.
- Question Connections
Ask questions in class. But not just any stupid question. Don’t ask for trivial clarification, or mention a point you just thought up. Instead, probe the connections between the information. Ask how an idea fits a theory mentioned earlier. Test your understanding of why a certain scholar thought a certain way, or what factor might explain a certain event. The less sure you are of your answer the more important it is for you ask. These connections are fuel for deep understanding.
- Adopt an Idea-Centric Note-Taking Format
To aid your attempt to process and capture information in the fast-paced environment of a lecture, you need an efficient, fill-in-the-blanks format that you can rely on to simplify the decision of how to record the results of this process. As you know, I’m fond of the Question/Evidence/Conclusion format described in Straight-A. But this is not the only game in town. Use whatever works for you. I once met a student, for example, who, at the start of class, ripped out a sheet of paper to put next to his notebook. On the ripped out sheet of paper he would jot down and number titles for the big theories or ideas mentioned in class. In his notebook, he took notes on the processed information, using the numbers as a shorthand for referencing the ideas his notes referred to. (For example, he might jot down: “the increased number of plague cases helped support 7, but seems to contradict 2 and 5”).