The Art of Note-Taking

Taking notes can be difficult, especially if you’ve never actually sat through a lecture before. Many college students don’t even bother, as they will be either sleeping or playing on their phones most of the time. Some don’t even show up, unless it’s for a test. You don’t want to do this though, not if you want to pass anyway. The trick to note-taking is knowing what’s important and what’s not. To help you filter out the useless information and focus on the important details, I’m going to give you a few tips on how to get the most out of your professors’s lectures.

1. Read Over The Material Beforehand

Most professors provide their students with syllabi, outlining everything such as the professor’s information, course guidelines, grading scales, and a tentative schedule for the semester. This should give you a good idea as to what the professor will be going over for each week. Start reading the chapters in the book and any additional material your professor has provided before they start going over it in class. That way, you’ll already be familiar with the subject by the time your professor starts the lecture, making it easier for you to pick out what’s note-worthy and what isn’t.

2. Write Shorthand

In most courses, professors get no more than 45 minutes each class period to teach their subject; therefore, they must put their lecture on fast forward so that they’ll be able to cover everything by the end of the semester. If you missed something that your professor just said because you were still trying to write down the previous thing your professor was saying, you are now familiar with the common frustration that most of us have with note-taking. The trick here is to write in shorthand. Abbreviate as much as you can. This will help save a lot of time and get as much information on as few sheets of paper as possible. If it helps, write down what the abbreviations mean afterwards, in case you end up forgetting. Another thing you’re going to have to do is learn how to read your handwriting, because over time, it’s going to get worse. If you’ve be public-schooled, you’re probably used to using pencils. In college, you use pens. It stands out better against the paper and ink doesn’t fade like graphite does. Go to Walmart, buy yourself some G2 Pilot’s (Fine or Ultra Fine are recommended), and you should be good to go.

3. Focus Primarily On Key Formulas/Definitions

If you followed step number, you’ll find that most of what your professor expects you to know is the definitions. Now I don’t mean to just take the words in bold out of the book and copy it to your loose leaf paper. There are two questions you should ask yourself, and they are “what is it?” and “how is it applied?”. For instance, if you’re taking physics, you will be expected at some point to know the equation for the conservation of angular momentum (L=I*[omega]). You must then ask yourself what what each symbol means and how you apply it to the problem you are given. If it’s history you’re taking and your professor is going over the Spanish-American war, you would be expected to know the year and where it took place (what is it?) as well as what caused it and how it affected the people involved (how is it applied?). If your professor is just relaying a historical account of someone getting shot in the knee, then you’re just wasting precious time by trying to write it down.

4. Use A Recording Device

In the classroom, you may have noticed several audio recorders sitting on your professor’s desk. No, your professor doesn’t have a strange fetish for collection recorders (or maybe he does. You never know…) It’s more likely than anything that these belong to other students who are wanting to recorder the professor’s lecture. Now I personally believe that these are for the lazy, but if you have a hearing impairment, then this is perfectly understandable. Nothing is better than having the power to hit the rewind button if you ever happen miss something.

Going through school, I always hated taking notes. I just assumed I could listen to everything the teacher told me and I’d be able to retain everything by the time the test came around. In high school, you can get away with this. In college, if you’re not totally familiar with the subject, you’re almost guaranteed to fail. Note-taking is a skill that you must learn if you want to make it through college; but once you get that down to a science, you will be once step closer passing all of your classes.