My 3 tips on taking notes

At university, my lectures would go something like this:

  1. Enter a lecture room, ready to learn.
  2. Open my laptop and prepare to take notes.
  3. Do anything possible that is unrelated to the lecture for 99% of the class.

The problem was, exam preparation became incredibly daunting. Each year, I’d tell myself it wouldn’t happen again, but each year, exam season was equally crazy. What I did learn, though, was how to revise (or re-learn) effectively. In particular, I wanted to share a few note-taking skills that I found useful.

  1. Write your notes by hand*.

I don’t enjoy writing. Having said that, the effort involved in putting pen to paper really helps with retention. Your first round of note-taking is key — it sets the groundwork for the entire module or topic. After this, it is really important to make notes from your notes. This saves you precious time. More importantly, your notes get shorter and easier to read. By the time your exams approach, your notes should be no longer than one sheet.

Of course, as you write these notes, it’s really important to make sure you understand them. How can you make sure that happens?

2. Use your senses!

As a general learning principle, the more senses you use to learn a new concept the better. What I found useful was actually speaking my notes aloud. I would run through my points and arguments out loud at train stations and bus stops. If you aren’t comfortable enough to do that, then read your notes aloud. The principle holds: use as many senses as you can to learn.

For foreign language exams, I found it really useful to record and listen to myself. The listening was useful, but the recording process was a learning experience in itself. You can apply this to any module that has a lot of unfamiliar terms. Again, the principle holds: use as many senses as you can to learn.

In my microeconomics module, there was one topic that just wouldn’t stick. I wrote out my notes and read them aloud, but as soon as I put my notes away it was gone. Sometimes, you will come across a topic that is incredibly complex. For some reason, you just can’t remember it. There’s a solution for this.

Teaching is the greatest way to learn.

I mean it. Remember that module I found difficult? I made a video attempting to teach it before the exam. To make sure I explained it well, I even taught it to my younger sister. She was 13 years old, so I had to do it a few times. By the end of it all, I understood the topic really well (and it’s helped about 7,500 people to date, which is awesome). Usually, the best people to teach are those who are unfamiliar with the topic, kids are great for this. Teaching allows you to really challenge your understanding and develop new approaches to share information. As a result, it forces you to understand the topic far more than you would have by simply reading your notes.

There’s probably a tonne of useful tips that others have to offer, too. If you can think of anything, I’d be happy to learn. It’s only through sharing our experiences that we can learn from one another.

*Although this is a general tip, I know that because of learning difficulties, some students may find this challenging. The notes do not have to be neat, structured or written quickly. It’s the process that I found useful. If it is still difficult, typing is the next best alternative!

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