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Note Taking

Note Taking - A good set of notes is half the work…

It is very important to attend class and to have your own set of lecture notes, by doing this you are contributing to your own learning. In an academic context note taking is an important part of learning in that you are taking in information and then writing it back out again as a learning process (Rowntree, 1976: 112). Personal notes are easier to remember, and provide necessary aspects of the module for revision. A permanent record will help you to learn and remember later (Kesselman-Turkel and Peterson, 1982: 3). The lecture may contain information not available anywhere else. So this is often your only chance to grasp the detail. After all, the class lecture is where you learn what your lecturer thinks are the most important aspects of the module, and it is the lecturer who writes the assessments and exams. Class assignments are also given and explained in the lecture, which are part of continuous assessment and worth some credit towards your final result.

Picture this scene: You are sitting back comfortably, relaxed and listening to the lecturer while watching the CIT lawn being cut outside the window; suddenly you are daydreaming about what you did over the weekend.  At the end of the lecture you only have a vague recollection of the important aspects. These important aspects are often relevant parts of your assessments and end of semester exams. Ask yourself, when are you going to get the chance to revisit the material? You need to take action; take notes.

Taking effective notes during the lecture is an important academic activity that helps you to concentrate, stimulates your ability to recall, and helps you to be organised. Note taking will help keep you focussed on the task in hand. Active learning is effective since it uses multiple senses and multiple activities. When note-taking we are using listening and writing skills and we are using our brain and muscles. Also, by writing down notes, you are paraphrasing the lecture or reading material into your own words and into a format that you are more likely to understand when you review the notes.  Note taking is an active process, making you an active learner. The notes you produce are your own work and are a visible reminder of the effort you have put into the course. A comprehensive set of personal notes is a great motivator; you are well on your way to success!

Students often comment that the sheer amount of information delivered at each lecture can be daunting and confusing. Effective note taking should have a purpose, be well organised, reduce your study time, and increase your retention of knowledge. Most importantly, effective note-taking can be a valuable time-saving skill. Note taking is a skill which requires practise. There are a few techniques and tips outlined here on how to take, organise and store notes to help make your life easier.

Getting started…getting organized…

• It is a good idea to collect notes for each module in one place, in a separate notebook or section of a notebook, A4 size is ideal.
• Write down the title of the module, the date and the time.
• Evaluate which information is useful and important and which is not- you don’t need to write down everything you hear.
• Copy down everything on the whiteboard and OHP, especially the outline, as the lecturer will have organised his/her notes in a logical way.
• Keep your notes short, clear and concise, so that you have easy-to-review chunks of information.
• Write clearly and legibly. If your handwriting is poor, consider printing your notes.
• Take down all formula, definitions, rules and specific facts exactly as presented by the lecturer.
• Use font, colour and size to draw attention to important points.  You might like to use a different colour pen for all formulas so at they stand out.
• Take down examples; these could be relevant to your end of semester exam.
• If there is something that you don’t understand, take it down as best and as completely as you can. You can then ask the lecturer for clarification or call to the Academic Learning Centre for support.  Once the ALC support lecturer knows just what you don't understand, s/he is in a better position to help you.
• If you should miss something completely, leave a blank space and be sure to fill it later. Now this is important....""Remember that....""The important idea is that....""The basic concept here is...."
• Use some shortcuts that you will understand and that will make the writing process quicker.  Abbreviations (‘e.g.’ instead of ‘for example’), symbols (‘=’ instead of ‘equals’).
• Record references and titles of relevant textbooks that your lecturer may mention. This is good guidance for further study.
• Review your notes within 24 hours after lecture or at least before the next lecture, otherwise retention will drop sharply and you will be relearning rather than reviewing.


Note Mapping - A picture paints a thousand words…

Mapping notes is a very effective tool which aids visual learning and retention. Notes are organised into a concise, logical map. Try it for yourself by following the guidelines illustrated below.





The Cornell Method of Note Taking

The Cornell Method of note-taking presents a format whereby you divide your A4 page into columns, like so:

With this method, the 5 R’s of note-taking are described. They are:
1. Record: During the lecture, use the note taking column to record the lecture using telegraphic sentences.
2. Questions: As soon after class as possible, formulate questions based on the notes in the right-hand column. Writing questions helps to clarify meanings, reveal relationships, establish continuity, and strengthen memory. Also, the writing of questions sets up a perfect stage for exam-studying later.
3. Recite: Cover the note taking column with a sheet of paper. Then, looking at the questions or cue-words in the question and cue column only, say aloud, in your own words, the answers to the questions, facts, or ideas indicated by the cue-words.
4. Reflect: Reflect on the material by asking yourself questions, for example: “What’s the significance of these facts? What principle are they based on? How can I apply them? How do they fit in with what I already know? What’s beyond them?
5. Review: Spend at least ten minutes every week reviewing all your previous notes. If you do, you’ll retain a great deal for current use, as well as, for the exam.