6 Tips for Effective Note-Taking

6 Tips for Effective Note-Taking

We forget about half of what we hear immediately after hearing it, recall 35% after eight hours, and recall 20% after a day. Also, studies show that we remember 10% of what we hear, 20% of what we read and 80% of what we see. Studies also show that students who take notes during a lesson (live lecture or video lecture) achieve much more than those who merely listen without taking notes.

In the days of video/voice recording, typed notes and video lessons, note-taking may be seen as an outdated study technique. My experience says otherwise. Besides, some studies show the effectiveness of note-taking and how students who hand-write their notes learn more than those who type them. I have always been an avid note-taker and can vouch for its effectiveness. An essential study skill is what I call it. Now, there’s more to note-taking than jotting important points or writing verbatim. Let me share some pointers from my experience—

  1. Always take notes! This helps in two ways—one, it prevents boredom as you are switching between two tasks, listening and writing, keeping you actively involved in the class. Two, you listen better as you want to note it down. Studies show that reviewing your own notes is more effective than reviewing someone else’s notes, even those given by the teacher.

  2. Handwritten wins over digital note-taking. A laptop/mobile/tablet can be a distraction for you and those around you. You get completely involved in the task and there are no autocomplete or word suggestions. Writing strengthens memory. Use abbreviations, develop your own short forms, learn shorthand… There are ways you can write more in the given time.

  3. Details! Details! Details! Write as detailed as possible and never skip the examples. Examples are crucial to understanding the central ideas of a lesson and are immensely useful in understanding and recalling. If you remember one example, you can derive numerous points associated with it. Capitalise, highlight or underline the important points.

  4. Be alert for cues to know which points are not to be missed. Cues may be verbal: ‘Please note’, ‘This is important’, ‘Remember’, etc. It may also be ‘how’ something is said: stating a point louder or softer than other points, repeating a point, pausing after stating a point etc. Non-verbal cues could be the snapping of fingers, pointing, clapping, a piercing look and so on.

  5. Review your notes soon, even during class when the teacher takes a pause. Fill in the gaps, correct errors, highlight important phrases, etc. It also helps to revise the lesson thereby strengthening what you heard and learned. Studies show that students who review their notes,  nearly always achieve more than students who take notes but don’t review them.

  6. There are many formats for taking notes: mind maps (better to create one after class), noting only important points (tend to miss out on important stuff too), writing down almost everything that is said (like I do), SQ4R, the Cornell Method and so on. An online search will take you through these and more. Choose what suits you the best.

Chinmaya Udghosh