Take Note all Ye Who Struggle

So, in light of watching Freshmen struggle with their first year of college, I wanted to write a blog about effective note taking, because it’s a lost art form for many people. For any who are looking for note taking tips, look no further.

I’m taking general psychology as a senior. Poor choice, I know. But I wanted to take at least one psych class before graduating, and you have to start with the basics before going anywhere else. The main problem I have in the class, besides it being almost ridiculously easy thus far, is that I am surrounded by freshmen. Now, I’m not a freshman hater. In fact I often like meeting students whose hopes and dreams have not yet been crushed by seriously difficult college classes. However, my main problem in that class is how ridiculously long the lectures take, because the first year students have not yet learned how to take notes.

I’ll jot down the slide, sit there ready to go, and be pleased when the professor flips to the next slide, only to have to groan as she turns it back for the whining masses behind me. Honestly, it’s aggravating sometimes. And I know they want the information, but honestly, if they’d just learn some important skills it could save us a lot of time. So here are a few handy dandy tips to good note taking:

1.Summarize summarize summarize– ok guys, dumb it down! You don’t need every single word the teacher has used on the slide. You can get the general impression just from a couple of words without writing it into a full neat sentence. For example:

Example A: Why do we use pseudoscience? This is because our brains have a natural tendency to like creating order out of disorder and sense out of nonsense.

Now that’s a lot to write down in a short period of time. So let me suggest something like this:

Example B: Why pseudoscience? brains want order and sense.

Have I captured the same basic principles? Yes! And I saved myself massive amounts of time where I could have written down every single word in that sentence. No need for that, just get the basic point.

2. Use abbrev.– Professors sometimes use big words. Those take time. If there’s a way you can remember the basic word while cutting it down in size go for it, especially for a term you’re using over and over again.

Examples: Psychology- psych, mysticism- myst. Archbishop of Canterbury- ABC, Protestantism- prot. Legislative branch- leg. Derivative- deriv.

Some might complain, oh well I’ll get confused later. Context is everything. And as I said, especially for words you’re writing over and over again it’s a good idea. If you’re in a medieval history class (I was last year) and see ABC Thomas Becket- you’re going to know what you’re talking about. Have some faith in your brain. After all, as I already said our brains like creating sense out of nonsense.

3. Use your own words dude– This may seem counter intuitive to saving time, but what it really does is saves you time later. Look at the slide first, examine the basic point behind it, then try your best to logically summarize and replace words with your own if you can. When you’re just copying down from the professor it becomes harder for you to learn the basic concept. Now if you’re just a really slow writer, then don’t bother with this. But for anyone who has saved time in other ways, use this to save you time studying.

4. Type up later- I have terrible handwriting, but I’ve learned to decipher it in my own way. But for some people with neat handwriting, writing more quickly can make it hard to go back and study later. If you don’t want to just type your notes in the first place- personal preference or professor’s rules, it can be good to go back and type them after the class. This not only allows you to worry less about scribbling down the ideas (because you can make them neater later) but also gives you a chance to review everyday in transferring them over. Excellent strategy to keep putting the material in your brain everyday and thereby be more ready for the tests.

5. Synonyms work wonders– this goes with using your own words. Professors sometimes use big terms in their slides. Don’t just copy them down if they’re going to take up a ton of space. Look for other words that might be shorter and easier to write.

Example A (slides): Pseudoscience has a large over-reliance on anecdotes pushing observations rather than facts.

Example B (notes): Pseudoscience leans on stories/observations rather than actual facts.

Much shorter, easier to understand in the long run perhaps.

6. Don’t just stare at the slides– Ok, you want to get down critical information on slides, to be sure. But also make sure you’re listening to the professor. Sometimes they say critical things that aren’t on their powerpoints, and you want to be aware of those. Keep your writing succinct and then lend your ear to the verbal content to make sure you’re not missing anything. Sure you might not get it all down, but it’s better than missing content altogether.

7. Cut out pointless information- If you already know something on a slide, or it’s just common sense, or the professor is just filling space to introduce a new topic…do not write it down. I’m surprised by the number of times I set down my pen and notice others around me still helplessly scribbling. Take down the hard facts, but there’s no need to write information that isn’t worthy of a test.

8. Textbooks are your friends– at least in gen psych, much of what the professor covers in class is also in the textbook. So do your reading, keep up! Even take notes on that if you’re really struggling. If you get the sense the prof just covers what you’re reading anyways, know that if you miss information you can just go get it from the book later. Make a note for yourself, or look over a friend’s notes after class. Therefore this makes my last point all the more important.

9. Don’t Panic! Stay calm, getting upset only makes it worse. Remember there are other students taking notes,  you can always get some help from them if you need to. Look through your book, talk to your professor. But panic only makes the time you have seem shorter and your handwriting sloppier and just doesn’t work at all. You can do it, and you’ll get better with practice.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fans take note. 🙂

So if anyone has any tips they’d like to add I’d be glad to hear them. Always looking for more notetaking help myself. What do you do to stay on top of it? Any ones you’d like to add?



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