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Taking Good Notes

Tests usually cover material that has been presented in class. It is therefore important to have good classroom notes from which to study.

Be an active listener. When you are actively listening in class, you don’t just hear the words the instructor is saying, you are also thinking about and trying to understand the information that is being presented.

Take notes to help you pay attention. You can think faster than anyone can talk. This is one of the reasons your mind sometimes wanders when you are listening to a lecture. When you take notes, however, your mind has something additional to do, and you don’t have time to think about anything else. Taking notes therefore helps you pay attention and stay focused.

Recognize important information. You can often hear a change in your instructor’s voice when he/she says something that is important for you to know. Instructors often speak louder, speak slower, or they give verbal cues like, “the most significant outcome,” “the main point,” “the most important reason,” “the three causes,” etc.

Anything your instructor takes the time to write on the board or overhead should be considered very important. Double-underline or put a star beside this information (or any information that’s very important) so that you’ll know to give it special attention when you’re studying later.

Take notes that are easy to read.

  • Put the name of the class, the date, and the page number at the top of each page of notes.
  • Write on only one side of your paper. When you study for a test, you will be able to spread your notes out without having to flip pages back and forth.
  • Keep your notes neat.
  • Write on every other line. Your notes will be easier to read and you’ll have space if you want to add something later.
  • Use symbols and abbreviations whenever possible. The following symbols will help you take notes faster:
    • = same or equal
    • > greater than
    • < less than
    • ~ approximately
    • .∙. therefore
    • ^ up or increasing
    • v down or decreasing
    • * most importantly
    • e.g. for example
    • i.e. that is
    • w with
    • w/o without
    • w/in within
    • b/c because
    • esp especially
  • Leave a wide margin on the left side of each page. Identify key words, and write these key words in the margins. Key words (main topics, names of people, places and events) help you organize your thoughts, and they make your notes more understandable. They can also act as study guides when you’re reviewing for a test; just cover up your notes and test yourself to see what you remember about each key word.
  • Go over your notes as soon as possible.