The Art of Taking Effective Notes In The Classroom

Leading career counsellor and popular career columist Ms. Pervin Malhotra advises students on taking effective notes in the classroom.

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nmims classroom, narsee monjee, mba, nmat, npat

As a college student, if you feel compelled to take down every word your lecturer speaks in class or recopy entire blocks of text, you certainly won’t have much of a social life — where would you ever find the time? If you do that or worse still, record every lecture, you’ll  dread the prospect of re-living those interminable lectures and chapters of text you’ve so faithfully copied that you’ll simply never get down to reviewing your notes or replaying the recordings.
On the other hand, if you skip note-taking altogether…well, you know what kind of grades to expect!

Begin on the right note…

Failing to develop an effective method of taking notes, students resort to photocopying someone else’s notes — a fairly pointless and wasteful substitute. While it may give you the psychological satisfaction of having it all at hand, other person’s notes are filtered through their mind not yours, taking into account what they already know, and what they think is useful or otherwise.

Remember to take notes only on stuff that will help you develop a thorough understanding of your subject in a way that’s useful and understandable to you. It’s better to follow a simple and uncomplicated method which you can use anywhere. Here are some basic tips to help you master the essential skills and become a high achiever in the process.

First and foremost, before you begin, make sure you have the following at hand:

  • a ball point pen
  • a ring-binder file
  • notebook paper
  • an active brain

The ring binder allows for easy and neat insertion and removal of notes. It also allows you to travel light.

You don’t have to carry the binder to class. Leave it at home and instead, carry a single folder with sufficient blank paper. This way you don’t have to worry about taking seperate note books for each subject. All you have to do is to simply file these papers in your binder/s every night.

1. Listen first, then write: Listen to what your prof is saying and take down the main points only. Remember, careless note-taking is as bad as not taking any note.

2. Take notes on what you don’t know: Very often, the lecturer will present material you already know in order to set the stage for further discussion. So don’t waste your time in taking down all those dates, vocabulary, terms, formulas and names that you’ll easily find in your textbooks when you review them.

3. Develop shorthand skills: You don’t have to be a master of shorthand to utilize helpful abbreviations for note-taking. Leaving out unnecessary vowels and articles is just one way to write quickly while taking notes. Since you can mentally insert them later, why write complete sentences when you’re struggling to get all the really important points your instructor is saying? For instance, The `Indian political system’ can be abbreviated as `Indn pltcl syst’.

4. Read the text prior to class: It really helps to come to the class after reading your textbook so that as the teacher is speaking, you know what parts of the lecture you should note down and what parts are already available in your textbook.

5. Observe your teacher’s style: Building a note-taking strategy around each teacher’s typical lecture plan is another key to academic success.
Summarize the lecture into the following categories and take notes accordingly.

  • information not contained in class texts
  • explanations of obscure material within the texts
  • examples that provide greater understanding of the subject matter
  • background info that puts the course material in context.

Your lecturer may have a style that dwells on biographical and other details that are not relevant to the main categories. Leave these out or note them only very briefly.

6. Review your notes: Take the time to go through your notes briefly in the break, in the study hall or when you go home. Honestly evaluate whether they’ll be decipherable when it comes to studying for your exams. If not, add to them while your memory of the class is still fresh.

These simple note-taking techniques will put you in greater control of your time and provide you with a better and painless way of organising your student life. You’ll no longer find yourself spending long hours filling notebook after notebook with redundant stuff. Nor will you need to get into those hectic all-night crash study sessions. Come exam time, you’ill be armed with your own first-rate notes encapsulating all the essentials at your fingertips — in an organised and easy-to-review format.

Of course, your newly acquired skills can be extended from the classroom to the library or to any reference source with equal success. Try them out — the results will greatly surprise you!

Smart Notes:

Allow you to concentrate on the lecture or what you’re reading

Help distill the key points.

Help you recall the topic when you revise it later

Help you develop your ideas with clarity when submitting your written assignment.

Bad Notes:

The notes are illegible, incomplete and innacurate.

They don’t have critical information (dates, names, references)

They’re not in any identifiable sequence. You can’t locate the info when you need it.

They don’t help you in revising the subject before an exam.

AuthorPervin Malhotra is India’s top career counsellor. Her immensely popular career query columns in the print and electronic media reach an estimated audience of 50 million. She is the Executive Director, Career Guidance India (CARING)