It’s the night before your exam and you’re freaking out because the notes you took are all over the place and they simply do not make sense to you, not anymore than when you first took them. Do you give up and just decide to not study? Or do you call up a friend and ask them if they can send you their notes? They won’t be your personal notes, but at least it’s something, right?
There’s a simple solution to the ever-irritating pain of having to keep up with your teacher who’s moving through slides like a race car while you’re trying to studiously take notes. Here are five note taking tips that should help any college student be able to actually understand what they scribbled down when that next exam comes around.
1. Write in a legible color.
This may seem like common sense, but we all have that purple or aqua colored pen in our pencil cases that we use to take notes from time to time. You may be tempted to pull out the glittery pen and take notes in class, but don’t be fooled. Some of those writing utensils run out of ink quickly or let out a bunch of ink at once, and soon you find yourself with not enough ink, or a huge inkblot in the middle of your notebook. Stick to the basics: blue, black and red. Yes, these colors are general and boring. However, when studying for an exam, you’ll be grateful you wrote in a color you are able to read and see instead of trying to figure out what the purple squiggles mean in the middle of the inkblot on the page.
2. Highlight key words and phrases.
Highlighting key words and phrases will help you remember important topics and details when you look back through your notes. This will also make things stand out whenever you’re reviewing your notes. If you’re studying for an exam, you are going to want to look over the most important topics and details. Highlighting key parts of your notes will make your studying easier because you will know to focus on the things highlighted. This will also help if you are cramming for an exam the night before and are avoiding pulling an all-nighter (we all know those really don’t help as much as we think we do). If you’re cramming, having things highlighted will help you study more efficiently and will help you make a mental note to remember only the crucial information.
3. Develop your own personal shorthand.
Developing your own personal shorthand will come in handy in many more instances other than just taking notes. If you know how to write in shorthand, then more power to you! However, if you do not know how to use shorthand, then developing your own unique version that’s specific to you will help a lot when taking notes. We have all had those teachers that speak about 100 mph and never leave anything up on the board/screen for more than a minute. Taking notes while those teachers are giving a lecture is like trying to keep up with an Olympic runner. Your shorthand will make it easier to jot down notes that you will be able to understand in the future (since you came up with it). Your shorthand can be anything from leaving vowels out of long words, abbreviating words, using SMS language, numbers, symbols, etc. Just about anything that will help you write quickly and efficiently so that when you take a second look at your notes, it’s not a bunch of gibberish and there aren’t important words or phrases missing.
4. Do not write down every word.
If you write down every word that your professor says or that is on a PowerPoint slide, then you will most likely not be able to keep up. If you do, your hand will most likely cramp up as you write furiously in a desperate effort to keep up. Another important fact to keep in mind is that if you are trying to write down every word being said, you might miss something essential to your notes and you will be left with having to ask your peers what your professor just said. Writing down every word also wastes time; time that could be used for taking notes on material that you will actually be tested on. This is where tip #3, will come in handy. Your shorthand will allow you to leave out unnecessary words and only write down what you will really need.
5. Keep notes for each of your classes in different sections.
Nancy Pelosi once said, “Organize, don’t agonize.” The truth in this is abundant. If you organize your notes for each of your classes in different sections then finding them later will be 100 times easier. Having your notes all together makes it easier for you to lose track of where one class’ notes begin and end. Different sections keep your notes organized and it also keeps them all in one place according to each subject. There is nothing worse than reading half a page of notes on biology and expect to start reading the second half on the following page, only to find out that that page is full of dates and important figures for your history class. Where is that other half of notes?!? Keeping your notes in different sections will be extremely helpful when trying to find the other half page of notes.
Taking notes is a part of our every day school lives. We go to class and take notes to help us comprehend and review what we have learned. Looking back on well-taken notes will help you be successful in each and every single one your classes. Follow these note taking tips and begin to notice the changes in your academic skills. Follow one tip, or follow them all, whatever you decide make sure to do whatever feels best for you. After all, you will be the one studying your notes and using them to help you get an A on that exam.