Take great study notes that make exam prep easy-peasy.
Read the entire note-taking series to maximize your study time:
Have you ever considered why you take notes? Sure, teachers have been telling you all of your life you need to take notes, but what is the purpose? My guess is if you don’t know how notes help you study, you probably do not take them.
Why We Do NOT Take Notes
To start, let’s consider reasons not to take notes:
- Not to document everything said during a class
- Not to document everything you read.
- Not to fill up a notebook.
Hopefully, you get the idea! Notes should NOT be a comprehensive document detailing all of the facts. This is what a textbook is for. You can always look up specific concepts in your book or online if you need a more thorough refresher.
Why We DO Take Notes
Now we know what not to do, so let’s talk about the real purpose. There are two goals for taking notes:
- Document information pertinent to you. Your notes should not look like your friend’s notes. You both have different experiences and prior knowledge; your notes should differ to fit your own individual needs.
- Collect your thoughts. When you are learning something new, the information is not stored in memory. Notes help you to initially get the information into short-term memory. Through continual practice and study, we can move it to long-term memory.
If you’re just starting a course, you may be thinking…I need to write it all down! When we begin to learn a new subject most of the information can feel new. It is likely true your notes will be longer as you begin, but follow these two tips for taking better notes and you will immediately see the power of notes to help you study. (You will want to cut down the length later on. Check out Part 3: Turn Your Notes into a Powerful Study Tool for more tips on how to do this.)
To create notes that will be a useful tool for studying you need to create one central place to keep everything related to a specific course. There are a lot of options on how to do this:
- Have a single notebook or binder for your course
- Use a digital tool like OneNote or Evernote
- Keep a folder of Word documents
By getting organized upfront you will be able to find what you need when it matters. If you sit down to study and only have 30 minutes, you need to make your time count! Knowing where your material is so you can get started will make you a more efficient student.
Most courses either follow a textbook in order or have a syllabus with a set of topics in order. Use this order to set up your system. If there are 12 chapters, go ahead and make space for each chapter. If there are 10 topics, make a space for each topic. By doing this ahead of time, you are ready to add notes at any point.
Take Great Notes: Keep it Short
You’ve got a system. Check!
You’re in the right spot to work on Chapter 1. Check!
Now it’s time to start taking notes that are going to be beneficial to study from down the line. You want to write short facts, not long paragraphs. When you are in class, or when you are working through the course material, try to take the shortest notes possible. As long as it will make sense to you tomorrow, it works.
Imagine going back over each of these notes in three weeks as you study for an exam. Which is going to be faster and easier to review? Just looking at the notes on the left makes my brain feel tired and overwhelmed. The notes on the right feel much more do-able. I can remember those three facts!
You want to include information new to you at this moment. This will include:
- important dates
- new terminology
- important names
- steps of an important process
- references to charts, tables, graphs, or other visuals
Questions? You Betcha.
Absolutely! You especially want to jot down questions as they come to you, and mark them so they are easy to identify. I like to draw a big question mark in the margin or use the question mark icon in OneNote. If you skip this step and don’t write down questions, you will forget them. And then you don’t know what you don’t know. This is an easy way to fall into the “I don’t know what to study” trap.
When you do write down questions, then you know what to study. I need to figure out the answer to these things. When I have answered all of the questions, then I can work on memorization to get prepped for the exam.
Do a Quick Review and Revise.
Notes taken on-the-fly are not going to be cohesive or coherent. This is normal! What we do need to focus on is spending 10-15 minutes reviewing and revising notes after they are taken. Can you rearrange information so related information is together? What information did you write down but doesn’t really seem important any longer? What already lodged itself in your short-term memory?
Bonus tip: Schedule a 10-minute comprehensive review session every day. Use your time to review your existing notes. Your comprehension will go through the roof with this strategy and final exam prep will be painless.
Review these 5 quick tips for better notes.
Where you take notes can make this process go much quicker, and we’ll talk more about tools you can use to take notes in Part 2: Take Awesome Notes with.
Don’t forget to focus on how you plan your studies so that you can study less for your online courses.
Try It Yourself: 15-minute Challenge
- Pull out a book and get ready to take notes! Work through the first page, taking notes.
- Stop and review your notes.
- Could you make any notes shorter?
Were you surprised by anything you noticed in your own notes?