Note-taking skills for academic proficiency

Note-taking skills for academic proficiency

Efficient note-taking can reduce your stress during exam preparation and increase your memory skills, writes C S Krishnamurthy.

If you are just copying down what the lecturer says and don’t revise what you have written down, there is little point in taking notes. If you forget new information almost as quickly as you hear it even if you write it down, it’s because we tend to lose nearly half the new information within 24 hours of reading or hearing it. If we, however, take notes effectively, we can retain and retrieve a significant portion.

Taking notes can have better impact when they are organised. Half the battle with students is helping them to understand the merits that warrant to take notes and interact regularly with them.  Students often tell their teachers they have excellent memories and don’t need to take notes because they can easily recall
answers or information. Sadly, this is often not the case. Most of the times, it is hard to recall information that has been stated during a time when there is so much
information to process.

The goal of meaningful note-taking is to help recall what has been learnt and
retain that information over time. The rate of forgetting can be minimised if students interact – write, reread and discuss – with their notes within 24 hours. A second
revision for a shorter period of time within a day restores almost 100 per cent of what has been taught. Of course, the process involves active rather than passive

To help you get started, here are sopme helpful pointers:

-Make a page to take notes the same way each time. An essential question at the top of the page would help focus the students on key learning objectives that they should be able to discuss in the class. Listen and take notes in your own words, so it makes sense to you rather than write down verbatim what you hear. 

-Leave spaces between points for revising  and later addition of information. Develop your own style of abbreviations and symbols to save time. Write in phrases, not in sentences. Use bullet points wherever desirable. Cultivate a pattern to absorb vital details versus trivial information. Use highlighters or different colours to signify key ideas.

-Review and revise the content of your notes. You can create separate spaces for questions and answers if that suits your needs.

- Exchange ideas and collaborate with other students to check for understanding and test the comprehensiveness of each other’s notes.

-Write a summary that addresses the essential question by linking together all the learning. Obtain a written feedback from a peer or tutor to check for your
comprehension in the learning phase.

- If note taking of lectures is by hand (not any gadgets), it augurs well for the
memory, thus when students come to reproduce it in an exam, they already have the experience of writing about the content.

When it comes to lectures, it helps pupils’ memory and knowledge acquisition if the lecturer paused every ten minutes or so, followed by two minutes of reflection and activity that allows students to engage with and process the material just heard. This reflection is also added to their notes. It goes to developing a methodology that will help with study and knowledge growth habits.

We often tell students to “study” without giving them the explicit strategies to do that. Instead of assuming that students would know how to take down proper notes, it would be better if we educated them on the same. Good notes are the like the ones you write down during a challenging seminar or conference presentation on a topic close to your heart; the mind is alive. You have questions to ask and to answer, colleagues to consult, references to check.

One of the many advantages of note-taking is the increased academic
proficiency. While you write down important points listening to a lecture, your mind will also be registering some of the concepts, if not all. This reduces your effort while preparing for tests and exams.

So, the next time you are in class, remember to take down notes, the efficient way.

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