Note-taking can be difficult, especially when the professor doesn’t use lecture slides, or uses lecture slides with way too many words. In those cases, it’s really up to you to get the information you need to study for tests and quizzes. Here are 5 ways to get better at note-taking.
1. Don’t Read the Powerpoints
Lecture slides can be helpful, but they are also not the best way to learn. Don’t rely on the words on the lecture slides to keep track of what the professor is saying. We have a tendency to glance up at the slides, copy down the points, and go back to do whatever it is we want to do on our laptops. Use your own brain to pick out the important things coming out of their mouth. Sometimes the slides might have very minimal words, meaning the professor intends this to the bare bones of the lecture, not the formative material. If you want to get better at note-taking, listen carefully to the lecture instead of reading it. Pick out the words the professor is repeating, the concepts they are emphasizing, as these will probably show up on tests.
2. Don’t Multitask
It’s hard, but you can do it if you really want to get better at note-taking. Try to stay off your phone during class and limit your screen time to breaks, if you’re lucky enough to have them. If you have multiple tabs open (I know you do), then close them, or close the browser the window. Be strong enough not to open it. Mute your email notifications and try to focus on the blank document in front of you. If you use MS Word, then take advantage of their “focus mode,” which gets rid of the taskbar and leaves with only the blank page for your writing pleasure. If you’re handwriting, don’t study for other classes or live Tweet during class. It’s a process, and you can’t really quite cold-turkey. But if you keep trying you will succeed!
Probably not you wanted to hear, but it helps. If you’re able to write your notes by hand, you should. Handwriting helps your brain to preserve the information better. This is because you’re actively engaging with the material in order to physically form the letters and shapes that conceptualize the words. Basically, it helps you process better and learn more. It’s better for memorizing, which means you might score better on tests. Plus, when it comes time to study, you won’t have to stare at your laptop screen for hours. You’ll have a handy dandy notebook that you can reference instead, and actively highlight, circle, and underlined. The multitude of markups you can do with a pen or pencil beats laptops by far.
4. Make Note of Testable Material
It’s not always easy to pick on what material you’re going to need to focus on for tests and assignments, but following the professor’s verbal cues can help you figure it out with minimal guidance. Look for the time they repeat things a lot. This can happen when they’re focusing on the same topic for a while but repeating it in different ways. There’s usually a central concept or keyword they’re trying to get you to understand by doing this. They will use the keyword often. If you don’t think you understand it, it’s a good idea to shoot them an email to clarify. It’s also beneficial to pick on your prof’s teaching style. If they tend to the important ideas on the lecture slides, then make sure you’re gathering the definitions and explanations for those ideas as they speak. Trust your intuition, because most of the time you’re probably pretty good at verbal and non-verbal cues. If you’re still not sure, asking is better than not asking!
5. Revise Notes After Lecture
If you’re set on trying to retain the knowledge you learned, doing a little review after class can help you remember what you’ve learned instead of going through all your notes when it’s time for the test or exam. Go back and highlight the relevant materials, or if you don’t have that much time, just spend around ten minutes reading over that day’s lecture. This will also help you pull out questions you might have that weren’t so clear during your in-class note-taking process. Try to also make connections between your notes so you can understand the concepts and keywords better. Understand why the professor is teaching you the material in that order. Understand definitions and how to apply these concepts to the social context. Be your own textbook!
You can do this!