Study Skills: Notes

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Study Skills: Notes

Eric Liu, Contributor

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When you learn something new, the output is just as important as the output. Simply put, the information you are learning is input, and the notes you take are what you output. To actually be able to use those notes, you need to put them somewhere accessible and write them in your own words.


Showing up prepared

Although this seems quite obvious, it is an essential step to success. A study done at Princeton University in 2014 showed that in a 15 minute lecture, people wrote an average of 310 words with a computer, while on a paper, they wrote slightly above half that at 173. You might think that this means using a computer to write things would be better, but people who used a computer tended to write things word for word due to the speed advantage. This led to them being to recall significantly less information than students who wrote it down in their own way on paper. The students who wrote it on paper had to think about the information presented in order for them to shorten it and thus learned more than the ones who copied it down. But no matter which platform you use, if you use a paper, make sure to have a good spacious notebook that lets you dump all your ideas with a good writing utensil, and use a good note taking app if you decide to use a computer.


How do we take in information?

When we hear something being presented to us, we get both the syntax (the actual sound of the words), and the actual meaning of the words. Our working memory can only handle 5 chunks of information at once and so when we use a computer, the speed advantage causes us to devote more mental resources to the syntax, even if we don’t consciously do it. This leaves less brain power for the actual meaning, so we have notes that mean nothing to us which only creates more work us which works against notes that are supposed to reduce time studying.


What should you write down?

Your notes are only a tool if they actually simplify what is being presented, otherwise you have a second textbook. They need to be filled with important information, and void of anything that isn’t relevant but notes can be taken for so many things, so here are some general tips. Study guides are your best friend, they are basically the test with the answers. The teacher is making both the test and the study guide so they know that what is on there is relevant. Look at how questions are presented because a teacher tends to make tests in a certain format. Also, pay extra close attention to when a teacher tells you to, since they will often emphasize important things. You’ll likely forget what a section was about if you didn’t summarize it in a sentence below it so make sure to summarize any main ideas that were present in the information shown. Examples are also fantastic because a sentence can only tell so much. Examples show you how to actually apply something and are a great tool to always have.


Take notes your own way

Everyone will take notes their own way and finding the right one for you really helps you utilize them. If you are really neat, you should take notes the Cornell way where you have a small section on the left where you write down cues like dates and other important topics, a big body to do any actual notes, and a summary section at the bottom where you put and big ideas that reflect upon the notes. Another was is to take visual notes. This is where you can draw your notes whether it be with lots of pictures, or with like bubbles with lots of color to emphasize the key ideas. A different way can simply to use the classic


  1. Taking notes your own way
    1. Cornell Notes
      1. Cues
      2. Body
      3. Summarize the text
    2. Visual Notes
      1. Drawing and Creativity
      2. Color and Emphasization


style. All of these work but you should find something that suits you so that you understand your notes.

Take these tips into consideration the next time you take notes. Some big ideas are to bring emphasis to the big ideas in information. Summarizing can really help and make sure to write everything in your own words, that way you learn everything at least once, even if you don’t read over it again.

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