How to Take Notes
I say this every week so far, this is one of the most important aspects of being a successful student that you can encounter. How you take notes will go a long way toward how much study time is required, how effective your study time is, and how successful you will ultimately be as a student. Adequate notes are a necessity. It's -- it's -- a basic requirement that you be good at taking notes if you want to be efficient in your study and in your advanced learning here at MCTC and then on and on and on until you get your bachelor's and your master's and your doctorate program. How you take notes will be very important to you. So it's important that you have some system for following notes -- for taking notes. Now, there are a number of them, today we're going to look at a couple of those, but we're also going to look at things that you can do in class that will help you be more efficient in your note taking and be a more effective student. You want to listen actively; if possible you want to think before you write. Now, what do you mean "if possible"? Well, we have some instructors that go at breakneck speed in their lectures, and it's hard to -- to take notes and think about what you're writing down instead of about the lecturer. If they are constantly in -- in -- in talk mode and constantly getting you information, it's hard for you get notes and -- and think about what you're writing down at the same time. But that's what we want you to do, we want you to be an active listener, and listening for what clues and things we'll talk about and hearing the important things and think about what you're writing down and then writing down only the important things. You don't want to get behind in the lecture, but you want to be an active participant, an active listener and make sure that you're getting the stuff that's really, really important. You want to be open minded. In your college classes, there are tons and tons of things that you may hear for the first time in terms of different ideals, in terms of different philosophies. You want to be open minded. You want to listen to all the points that the instructor's giving, plus the points that your classmates are making whether you agree with them or not, whether it's of your traditional upbringing or not, you want to hear what's being said and -- and kind of soak it up. You don't want to let arguing about a point get in the way of your taking good notes or in the way you're learning what it is the instructor's trying to get across; but you do want to raise questions, but raise them at the appropriate times. Some instructors will, as they make points, ask "Are there any questions." Some instructors at the beginning of the class will ask, "Are there any questions from what we covered last time?" Both of those are appropriate times to ask the questions. But also sometimes it's appropriate to ask that question when the question pops into your mind while the lecture is taking place. You hear people start out sometimes their question with, "This might be a stupid question," but as long as it is on topic, it's not stupid; as long as it is on topic, it's not a stupid question, and I don't care how basic it may be. I was in a meeting the other day and they wrote out three letters which they assumed everybody in the room knew what they meant. Well, I didn't know what they meant, so I stopped them and I asked them. Well, after I got the answer, oh, yeah, I knew that, but I didn't know this as an acronym; I knew it as what the -- the whole title was. So it's appropriate to ask the question when the question pops up as long as it's on topic. So ask your question, get your answer, put that in your notes if you need to, and move on. You want to develop and use a standard method of note taking including punctuation and abbreviations. You want to use a standard method because that way you become more used to it, it becomes more user friendly, you know that the more you use anything, the -- the easier it is to use. If you drive a standard shift for the first time, first day you may be grinding gears and jumping and jerking, but the more you drive that standard shift, the smoother it becomes and the easier the ride. So the same thing applies with your note taking. Develop your own standard method of note taking or copy one of these that we're going to talk about including how do you punctuate, how do you abbreviate words, how you use the margins. Margins are good for -- for writing down questions, answers to questions that you had, for drawing charts in the margins that the instructor may put on the board or that might be in the textbook, that's a good use of your margins. But develop a standard use. Some people will copy their -- use their -- make their notes using multiple colors. That's a good way of keeping your mind active, keeping your notes interesting. But develop whatever works for you, take and keep notes in a large notebook. If you can get yourself a nice big two-inch or inch-and-a-half three-ring binder and just use loose-leaf paper for each of your classes and take your notes that way, I think that you'll probably be better off. I know that most of us use spiral bound notebooks now because they're easy to carry, you don't have to worry about the papers falling out of them, but you can't stick information in and out, sandwich your notes that way; if you have a three-ring binder, you can punch holes in that, handout and stick it into the day’s notes. You may go back later and add to your notes and need -- and want to keep them together, and if you have a three-ring binder, that's a good way to do that, so. So that's a perfect way to begin to use -- to do your notes. Also know that that takes up more space in your book bag, but if I can reiterate again, we're not here to be concerned -- "we" being the student -- aren't here to be concerned about how big a book bag we have to carry or how heavy it gets, we're here to get an education and we want to do whatever we need to do to advance that purpose. As you begin to take your notes, you want to leave space between your lines as you're writing your notes, and you leave space because you may want to go back and add to those. During the study time, you may find that answer; or you may come up with a question, you might want to write your question in that space and then go back and get the answer for it and write that in; you may find additional references or information; something may happen that you may want to add to that previous note that you've taken down and you might want to expand it a little bit from your abbreviated format in the classroom to a more understandable complete note during your study time. So if you've got a space between your notes, you can do that. Again, I understand we all get all excited about conserving money and conserving trees, but if you -- if you remember that your primary purpose here is to do whatever it takes to get your degree or your certificate or your diploma, then you won't have to worry about saving paper.
I mess up there quite often. You mess up there quite often? Yeah, when I found something after I've done written all the notes down, that I should have left some space there, instead I'm trying to squeeze it in the sides and stuff like that [inaudible].
Okay, then only write on one side of the -- one side of the paper. Don't write on both sides of the paper. If you write on both sides of the paper, it will bleed through and be harder for you to read, and be more distraction. Again, don't worry about conserving paper. Don't be an Albert, leave space and -- and you'll be a happier and more successful student.
You can always put in, like, Post-it notes, too. Post-it notes you can use Post-it notes. My problem with Post-its -- Post-it notes is I lose them. Or they get stuck someplace where they're not supposed to be. I had one blowing around my car yesterday, and I had no idea where it [Chuckle] came from, but I needed to remember to pick it up so I know what's on the Post-it note. But you can use Post-it notes if you're more organized than I am and you remember to stick to that paper and stick to that notepad. When you're taking notes in a lecture, don't try to write down everything the instructor says because then you become a stenographer and you may be writing down everything that the instructor says, but you're not really writing down everything that the instructor says. In the first place, he's going to -- he or she will probably be talking way too fast for you to keep up with and you're going to miss the context of the lecture. You're probably going to miss those -- those clues that they give -- we'll talk about -- that tell you what's important and what's not important. You have to remember during most lectures, there will be information that's given that is very important; there'll be supporting information; and then there'll be filler information, information for an explanation or examples of what they just talked about. The stuff that you need to write down may not be the example in most of your classes, but it will be that important primary bit of information and then the supporting information, but you don't want to write it down word for word even then because you won't have time to get it all down. As I said, everything that the instructor says is not of equal importance so you don't need to write all of it down, and you want to spend more time listening and attempting than you do attempting to take down everything -- you want to attempt to pick out those important -- those lead points during the lecture and not be so worried about getting the copy down. If you are writing as fast as you can, you cannot discriminate between what is important and what is not, so only take those important things; learn to do that, learn to listen actively and be able to discern what the important points are and supporting points are and what the fluff is. We talked about listening for clues to -- to know what to write down and -- and what becomes an important point. One clue is if the instructor is usually tied to the podium and they move away from their podium during a lecture, they're probably getting ready to say something that you ought to listen to and write down. If they are using PowerPoint’s or some projection and they walk over to it and begin to tap on the board or tap on the PowerPoint or underline it if they're using the graphics, then you probably ought to write that down. If they're writing anything on a white board or a blackboard, you probably ought to write that down. If they took the time to write it on the board, then it's possible that it will be on a quiz or a test. So you ought to be looking for those kinds of clues. Change in the rhythm of their delivery. If they slow down, it's probably to make emphasis that they're talking about an important point. If the volume in their voice gets higher, it's probably because they've gotten excited about something they're talking about, and if they're excited about it, it's probably going to be on a test, okay. So those are some clues. So trust -- transition from one point to the next. Sometimes they'll say "moving on" or they'll even go so far as to say, "the next point," and when they do that, you need to be writing down what comes out of their mouth next part because it's a new idea. If they begin to repeat things for emphasis, you need to write that down. If they've taken the time to say it the second time, that means it's very important in their mind. You get that last part? "In their mind." Part of being a successful student understands the mind of your instructor, so you listen for those things and what's important to them, is important to you for that class. Changes in volume, we talked about that. If they begin to number -- this is No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 -- you want to write down those points as they give them. Many lecturers attempt to present just a few major points and then several minor points to support those major points during their lecture, the rest of it is just explanatory or support material. It's the main point and those major supporting -- supporting points that you want to write down. Every now and then it will be good to write the examples somewhere in your notes because sometimes some things are so difficult to understand that we need a little more help. If you've got that example written down, it helps to -- to clarify the point for you. That's why we -- we leave room in our notes for those graphs and things from the textbook, or graphs and things that they may be use during their lecture so that we can get them into our notes and it they will help to explain what they're talking about. You want to always be looking for those primary bits of information and relay them down in our notes. Some of you may write the way I write which means that once your notes get cold, it's hard for you to read them, so you always want to write so that you can read your notes. I had some -- someone write something down in church the other week and I was going to go back and recopy it in the right place later, but I can't read their writing, so they need to write -- they needed to write so that I could read. So the things that you are handing in, guess what? Now, you need to use Word so you don't have to worry about how you handwrite those things. Most of your instructors want it done on the Word -- or on Word Perfect or something but when you're writing your notes, you need to write so that you can read it later. Don't get in such a hurry that you can't read them - it just begins to run amok and it looks like a bunch of lines or scribbling. If you can't write and you print better, which is what I do, I usually will print my notes. Occasionally, I still write; although I know that -- I mean I know this because I've seen it. Some of our students come to us now and they really can't use script, they only know how to print because they've never had to write, but if you do and you write very nice and pretty and legibly and quickly, that's great but make sure that you're writing your notes in such a way that you can read them when we go back to them at the end of the class or the next day or two weeks from now. If you're thinking that, oh, I'll just scribble it down now and recopy that that works for some people but for most of us, we don't have that kind of time, and you're thinking, well, rewriting also helps to reinforce it in my mind. Well, that's true, but if you write it where you can read it the first time, you can spend that time that you would use recopying it for studying anyway and probably to a more effective approach. Neatness is a virtue, but when it comes to taking notes, we're not so much concerned about neatness as we are getting it down in a legible and readable form that can serve you as you study for quizzes is tests. Again, if the instructor takes time to write it on the board, it's a good idea for you to copy it into your notes. If they write it on the board, chances are it's going to be on an exam, so you want to take the time to copy down things that are written on the board. Choosing the right seat to sit in a classroom affects the quality of your note and of your learning experience. If you choose a seat that's down front, center of the room, or at least in the center of the area where the instructor's going to spend most of their time, then you will have less distractions, you'll hear the instructor better, you'll see better, you'll miss fewer things, you'll be less concerned about the side conversations that are going on between the students, and you'll be a more effective student. If you choose that seat at the beginning of the semester, at the beginning of the class, you're better off because we are creatures of habit. Those of you who were here last week are probably in the same vicinity that you were in last week, maybe the same seat. When you leave this room and go to your next class, you will go to the same seat you've gone to for the last four weeks. We're just creatures of habit. So choose your seat carefully, choose down front; plus that also allows the instructor to note you, and they'll notice that you're interested in class, and they'll notice when you look puzzled, and they'll even ask you, "Do you understand?" They'll notice when you're excited about the things they're excited about, and the instructor noticing you only help you in the long run.
[Pause] Sitting down front allows you to hear the instructions and what the -- when the instructor gives them. So you always want to make sure that you get your assignments correctly and precisely when they are given. Not everyone will write them on the board or put them in a syllabus. They'll give you handouts from time to time, and sometimes they'll just speak what your next assignment -- assignment is. The closer you are to the front, the more accurately you're going to hear it. But even if you're way back in the back of -- of the [inaudible] and you don't get it right, be sure to get your hand up in the air or whatever to get the instructor's attention and find out exactly what the assignment is. Never leave the classroom confused about what the instructor wants you to do next. Take the time to find out what it is they have to say. We're only going to talk about two different methods of note taking today. One is the "outline" and the other is the Cornell. The outline method has two methods of taking notes. It's a formal, where you use the -- the Roman numerals and the capital letters and then small letters and so on. This is a good method because it is so organized. I use the outline method, but usually I use the informal outline where I'll start out with the title of the chapter maybe, and then first main idea will be that first main idea from the textbook, and then the supporting details will come from the following paragraphs. If you were here for the first class -- the first workshop that we did, Critical Reading, or Reading for College, then you also know that part of critical reading is doing an outline as part of your preread. If you did that outline like this or like this, in the informal or formal method, guess what? You've got the framework for your notes for class. And then you just fill in those blanks that you've left in those lines for your outline. So if you do the preread in Critical Reading and do the outline, you've also done some of your note taking from class if your instructor's coming from the textbook. If your instructor's not coming from the textbook, you're still responsible for what's in the textbook so that you have the outline that you can tie into the lecture. If you didn't understand that, see me. We'll spend some time talking about that. So that's why I use the outline. The outline is -- is -- very good for me, but there are other methods, and the only one that we're going to talk about this afternoon.
[Pause] is the Cornell method. The Cornell Method is also very organized. It's a method where you take a standard sheet of paper with lines; you draw a column to the right -- and well -- the left side of the paper about an inch and a half to an inch away. If you if there's a blue line running down that column, then you already have it [inaudible] draw you can use that, and then you take your notes on the right side of the paper, that larger side of the paper, and then you use the left side, that secondary column is what they call a "recall area," and then you -- you go there and you -- you write comments and questions about the main ideas of that appear in the right column. There is also a section at the bottom of the page that you reserve for summary notes that tell about what's talked about [inaudible]. As the slide says, this format -- is used to reduce visual clutter and to help you to learn and remember your notes more effectively and more efficiently. This is what your notes would look like if you were taking -- using the Cornell method. "Take Your Notes" would be your title, and then in the left-hand column, you would do -- would be your recall column, and perhaps your first note might say over here in your notes from the lecture, "Get a three-ring binder for notes from -- for all classes. Classes are my primary appoints and, therefore, attendance is important. Instructors notice." And then you might, in the recall column, say "Organizing everything I need, have notes easily accessible, patrol time [inaudible] miss class." So you make comments about what's in your main column in your recall column. The syllabus is a great source for being aware of future assignments, used to stay on top of the material discussed in classes, lectures, and to plan your master calendar from [inaudible]; frequently looking at a syllabus prevents getting lost or behind. The recall column simply says "Syllabus usage: What good is it?" [Inaudible] is asking those questions and the answer is already provided. So that's the way the Cornell Method would work. At the bottom of the page you would summarize those notes that you were taking and what you learned, what you wanted to remember from the lecture. Are there any questions?
Our purpose is to give you options on different methods that you might use to help you be a successful student at [inaudible] Community Technical College and beyond. Use whatever works for you. Use whatever works for you. The only other thing I would say about note taking is sometimes you get into classrooms where the lecture is important and you think that you want to tape the lecture. Always get permission from the instructor first. I am not a fan of -- of taping lectures. I don't mind being taped, but I'm not a fan of taking lectures because that means that you need to have that amount of time to go back and listen to it again. If you take effective notes while you're in class, if you've done the pre-reading of the assignment and read the assignment, you probably do not need to tape the lecture. I hope something here that you've heard or seen will help you to achieve your goal of being a successful student. Please complete the evaluation, and we thank you for your time.