Effective note-taking is one of the most important skills a student can develop. Taking great notes in class doesn’t just help a student to remember material later. Well-organized notes are the foundation for every part of the learning process. By mastering some basic note-taking skills, students can ensure that they’re getting the most out of their time in class and at home.
An effective note-taking practice can be broken down into three phases: before class, in class, and after class. When students read material before it is covered in class, it is important that they have a sense of what is most critical in the reading, and record their reactions to that material. What topics seem the most important? Often, the headings and subheadings in a reading are a good indicator of the main ideas in a text. Students should start their notes by recording any key points they encounter in the material. They can also use this time to write down any questions they have about what they’ve read. Maybe they were surprised by something in the reading. Or perhaps there was a story that didn’t make sense to them. These are all things that students can address with their teachers in class, using their own notes.
The second part of the note-taking process is listening and participating in class discussions. When the teacher talks about the material, what are the things he emphasizes? What are the questions he asks? In this part of the process, students should try to draw connections between the things they noticed and the things the teacher highlights. Are they the same? What are the things the teacher points out that the student didn’t notice? What kinds of questions are the other students asking? These are all keys that can help a student get a more well-rounded sense of the material.
The final step in the note-taking process is managing the notes after class. Once a student has recorded their own thoughts and the thoughts of their teacher and classmates, it’s time to review and make connections. Students will likely have lots of references to a few key ideas throughout their notes. This is the time to organize and re-write notes that reflect the most important parts of the material. What are the things the teacher said to focus on? Is there anything the students found confusing that the teacher explained in class? By reviewing and reorganizing notes after class, students have a chance to focus their notes on what’s really important in the class.
The goal of reviewing and revising notes is to make sure that students have a clear and efficient study guide to help them master material. If there is something they wrote that is less important, they can leave it out of their revised notes. If something they hadn’t noticed turns out to be more significant, they can give it more room in their revised notes. By approaching note-taking thoughtfully in these three areas, students give themselves a head start on performing well at homework and exam time.