A large part of our note-making research involved delving into discussions on this topic with the experts. We talked to teachers, education bloggers, tech integrators, ed tech specialists and even the founder of the infamous #Edchat to compile this do’s and don’ts of taking study notes.
Here’s a quote to help motivate you to analyze how you take study notes:
@ExamTime There isn't any one way for all kids to best take notes, b/c we all learn differently, however, notetaking is important to do well
— Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) September 30, 2014
1. Understand your Learning Style
Following the words of Tom Whitby, other experts widely support avoiding a ‘one size fits all’ formula. Understanding your learning style will stop you banging your head against the wall in frustration. Figuring out what works for you can switch that light bulb on over your head and make learning an easier and fun process.
Julia Sharman, an Education Advisor and Consultant is an advocate of encouraging students to discover their learning style and apply this to the type of notes they take. For example, a kinaesthetic learner would most likely prefer to use spider-grams, charts or doodles with a variety of color.
Determining which of these 6 types of learners you are will help you even further.
2. Question Why You Are Taking Notes
Questioning the purpose of taking notes will help you process information better. Terry Heick is a former English teacher and the Director of the huge education blog Teach Thought. He explains why he encouraged his students to appreciate the importance of taking notes. “What I tried to impart more than anything else was the point of taking notes – understanding what you are documenting and why in each individual circumstance. This can inform what you record and how, rather than falling into mindless ‘strategies’ and techniques.”
3. Don’t Record Every Single Comment
This is the most significant feedback we received from numerous experts in varying forms. The more you engage in the note-making process, the more you will understand the valuable nuggets of information you should record. There is no way that your wrist will be able to cope with every word your teacher or lecturer says, but there are note-taking techniques you can try.
When giving advice to her students, educator, tech specialist, blogger and all round ‘digital diva’ Rafranz Davis tells her class to record short important bites. This acts as ‘an anchor’ to drive deeper thinking and scope to dive into an area. David Bayne, a UK teacher and big fan of our free elearning tools here at ExamTime, also suggests using key words but also using your own words and those which you understand.
Along with not writing every word, the key point is NOT to try to learn your notes verbatim also. You need to understand the material or you will simply trip yourself up when it comes to taking exams and tests.
4. Link your Notes to Your Syllabus
If your course requires lots of assignments and projects, you will already know that you need to reference all original sources of information you use. Take this a step further by linking the topic you are studying to your core syllabus. This will help you understand where each topic fits in the overall picture.
You should also include sources when building your notes as this will help you find out more about that particular area. Argentinian instructional designer and lifelong learner Mayra Aixa Villar gave us her reason for doing this. “I always include an original source under my notes so that I can remember the author and continue reading their work.”
5. Use Technology to Your Advantage
Creating visual study aids using technology can easily be applied to your note-making routine. Tools such as ExamTime Notes give you the freedom to express yourself and incorporate media such as graphics, videos and presentations to give you a richer learning experience.
David Bayne and his class heavily use the ExamTime tools and this year he wants as much notes online as possible. US Teacher and ed tech enthusiast Tom D’Amico advises his students to use digital notes with lists and color so they can quickly sort headings and concepts for easier recall. The blank canvas the Notes tool provides will help them do this by shaping them to suit each individual student. See an example Note below:
If you would like to start creating your own online notes for free, click on the button below for a free ExamTime account:
6. Review Your Notes Regularly
Come on, we don’t need to tell you that the process doesn’t end with building a set of beautiful study notes? Creating your notes is a great start but to learn the information, you’ll need to go back and review the material several more times suggests Mike Karlin, a US education blogger and teacher. Schedule an alert to revisit your notes on a weekly or monthly basis to trigger new ideas and find inspiration. Susan Nash, the ‘elearning queen’ suggests returning to your notes and expanding them by linking to useful articles and websites.
7. Include Visuals such as Mind Maps
Note-making is more than text. Using visuals such as graphs, diagrams, pictures and mind maps can help you comprehend information easier and recall pieces of the puzzle when you need to. James Shackley is a Learning Technologies Manager at Millbrook Academy who recommends mind mapping as a good way to store the key points in one place.
Another teacher who supports mind mapping is history teacher and ExamTime user Pete Jackson. As with James, he encourages his students to create Mind Maps to focus on the main areas within a topic. Take their advice and create your first Mind Map when you sign up for a free ExamTime account. Remember, don’t be afraid to unleash your creativity and use lots of color!
8. Get Insight from Your Classmates
Many education programmes encourage collaborative work as it’s a way to learn from others. Christopher Nesi, a teacher and technology integrator, gave us an important piece of feedback. Your notes are not set in stone, they can be revised at any time. One way to add depth to your knowledge is by speaking to your classmates and asking what they felt was important, it may be different from what you thought yourself. This should lead to a further discussion about the topic being studied and more learning taking place.
9. Don’t Write Notes Mindlessly
This advice goes hand-in-hand with questioning; are you getting value from your note-making? Active learning means engaging with the study material as the true responsibility to learn is in your hands. This is verified by Sarah Mizener, a graduate assistant who uses the various ExamTime tools to put this into practice. Instead of mindlessly writing down definitions, formulae and re-writing your teacher’s notes, reinforce your learning by developing mind maps, flashcards and quizzes to really think about what you are learning and engage in every stage of the learning process.
10. Try Not To Get Frustrated
It’s easy to get frustrated at times. For example, James Shackley says that his students find it VERY difficult to copy down reams of information. These note-taking strategies or using mind mapping as already discussed should help you unravel this problem. Try to remember that your study notes should work for you so if you feel like that is not the case, have a think about ways to change your current technique.
Bonus: Take Part in a Meaningful Activity
Of course, not everyone agrees that taking study notes is the best use of student time. Lisa Nielson is an innovative educator and a Director of Digital Literacy who believes that note-taking is outdated. “Students should be given all the notes and materials at the start of a lesson. This allows them to think faster and make meaning of what they are learning, rather than just copying down what they are hearing.” Lisa believes that teachers should give their students all the material upfront so they don’t focus on ‘getting it down’ and miss absorbing the content. When they know a teacher will be sharing it with them, they can free their mind to take in learning more actively.
Lisa shared an example of a meaningful activity with us over the course of our discussion where these kids used Twitter as a medium to do work that matters and learned more than they would have taking notes in a lecture. This type of work is more powerful than what many college age kids are doing.
What note-taking advice would you give students? Leave a comment to share your tips below!