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Study Skills: Taking Notes Like a Professional

Does note taking every overwhelm you because you think you need to write down everything the teacher says? How do you navigate that overwhelming pit? I decided to write this blog after a very dear person, who is always a very good student, asked me, “What should I write down now that I’m in college? Tell me how you take notes.” Aw, did he ask me for advice?

Well, then I bet there are others out there struggling with this as well!

  1. Write down everything the teacher writes on the board or the overhead projector. If they take the time to write it, it’s important.
  2. Names. Usually names are important or they wouldn’t bother saying it. “John Smith founded the first paper factory in Massachusetts.” John Smith and Massachusetts are names that you need to write. And hopefully you’ll also write what John Smith is famous for in Massachusetts.
  3. Definitions. When the teacher says, “Today we are going to talk about CELLS. A cell is… “ you better start writing that definition.
  4. Dates. Teachers love to chronologically test you so you have a framework for how long that thing has existed. If birth control was only invented in the 60s, you can see how early we are in the development of ways to keep people from reproducing. You get the idea. Write down the dates.
  5. Comparisons. If they start comparing two things against each other, you better start writing. An evergreen tree is different from an oak tree because…. write it.
  6. Numbered Lists. Any time they say “There are four ways to.. “ or “There were three people who” or “There are five principles involved in the scientific method” or “There are two parts to this to understand” then you need to write all the parts of the numbered list with a brief description.
  7. Anything the teacher loves. They always put it on the test if they love it.
  8. Anything the teacher hates. They usually hate it for a reason so they put that on the test to make sure you understand this as well. Writing teachers hate adverbs or passive voice. Write what that is.

This list is a numbered list. Could you recite this list without looking? Take a minute to learn the 8 things. Then recite them backwards. If we were in a class, this entire list would be in your notes but maybe just shorthand for the definitions. It could say, for example, “John Smith, found paper factory, Massachusetts, 1891.”

Get in the habit of creating shorthand symbols. You could write a heart or a heart with a line through it to denote what the teacher loves and hates. Start tracking the teacher like this (what do they love and hate) because that will make the class more entertaining, as well.

Also, ask yourself repeatedly, “Why is he bothering to teach this?” I.e. “what is the big picture significance of this topic?” When you can make big connections between the ideas and the GRAND PICTURE, it will help the details stick in your head.

Good luck with your new school year!

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