After having to take countless handwritten notes in class during High School and then typing notes during lectures at University, I have figured out a pretty good method to take the best notes.
Consider this your guide to taking flawless notes that will help you ace your classes:
TAKE NOTES IN CLASS
Whether you use a notebook or your computer, the same thing always applies: always write down what the teacher/lecturer is saying. Use abbreviations when you are taking notes down as you may get left behind if you try to write out word for word what the lecturer is saying. An example of some important abbreviations are:
wh. – which
w. – with
t. – the
irt. – in regard to
ito. – in terms of
wrt. – with respect to
fr. – from
f. – for
NB. – important
You can also use symbols for things like increase/decrease like + or -. (I usually draw a circle around them otherwise I confuse it as a plus sign etc).
It’s very important to keep your class notes organised so use a filling system which makes them easy to find. For hand written notes I suggest using an A4 notebook for each subject, and label at the top of each new class the date and topic covered in the class. And similarly when you are taking notes on your laptop, use a single document which also sets out the date of the lecture/class and what topic is covered. This will make the next steps easy to manage.
Schedule time in your day to take the notes you made in class and neaten them up. This would include highlighting keywords, terminology or exam tips that are important, as well as fixing any spelling mistakes and unabbreviated words.
Check your course outline or marking scheme to see which material you have covered so far, and what is still to be taught so that you understand how far you are.
INSERT TEXTBOOK MATERIAL
If your class follows one particular textbook or a series of them, ensure that you insert the information from the textbook into your handwritten/typed notes. If your notes are hand written then you can only insert textbook material after your class notes, but if you type your notes try type up the information and insert it underneath the relevant sections.
Make sure you don’t just dump all the textbook information into your notes, as it will only duplicate your information, which will take you even more time to sift through later. Rather spend a little extra time going through your textbook and only add in extra detail or sections that may help you understand the topic better.
Helpful tip: I use an incredible app called OCR Scanner from Lead Tools (which you can download for free on the app store or the google play store) which is uses Optical Character Recognition on images to extract text from them. This has saved me countless hours! You literally take a photo of a page of your textbook, use the app and it converts it into text, meaning you can so easily summarise textbook information into one document. I then inserted these summaries into my class notes as I typed them, but this can also help those who don’t want to spend hours rewriting textbook information into their notes.
COMPILE & REWRITE
Once you have all the information you need compiled into a single document or book(s) you should then rewrite them. I rewrite my notes and arrange them by the order that they appear in my course outline, unless some information relates to more tan one topic.
How you rewrite your notes and style them is up to you and your personal studying preference. But here is what I do:
- Print out my typed notes.
- Rewrite them on A4 paper with a black pen, as well as using coloured pens for keywords or certain terminology. This can also include whole paragraphs as it may relate to something specific. For example when I studied law I would write out every case name in red and the facts etc in red too so that I knew it was all case related information. Definitions would be in blue and general information was written in black.
- I use abbreviations in my rewritten set of notes to save me time, but not as many as in my class notes.
- Keep it simple. I don’t put loads of information onto one page. While this may leave me with a daunting pile of notes it is much easier to learn when the page is minimal and simplistic.
Now that you have your notes out and written perfectly there is a good chance that there is a bit too much going on. I usually end up with a lot of information that can be difficult to digest. So I then rewrite another set of summary notes where all the information from an entire section is condemned onto one or two ages (maybe three if it is a huge amount of work). This is the bare bones of the studying material.
In law this meant I only wrote down legal concepts, without explanations of them, and key words but no definition, as well as listing important cases relevant to the legal concept but only included one line on the case itself.
I hope this was helpful. Now for the next step: how to memorise your notes.