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Top Tips to Taking Better Notes

Study can be overwhelming for even the most organised student. The amount of reading material to cover can be daunting and trying to remember all of the lecture content for that final exam can seem impossible. There may be a perception with online study that note taking is not necessary, as all of the notes are already on the screen, but this could not be further from the truth. Research shows that students only retain five percent of what they have learned in a lecture, and only ten percent of what they have learned from reading. Active forms of learning, like note taking, are needed to improve reading comprehension and increase retention of information. The good news is there are reading and note taking strategies you can use to ensure your study is more productive and set you up for success.

Read selectively and with purpose. Academic reading requires a strategic approach, and it would be impossible to read every single word like you would in a novel. To get the most out of your readings, before you begin, it is important to identify the purpose for doing the reading, and what you need to achieve. If the purpose of the reading is to gain a general overview of an idea, a quick read through will suffice. However, if the purpose of the reading is to understand a difficult concept, you can spend more time focusing on the details.

It is also important to locate the specific information that is relevant to your study. When doing an assignment, it is not necessary to read every single suggested reading. Some readings will be essential to the task, others may only have one paragraph you can draw information from, while others will not be relevant to you.

To make the large amount of reading more manageable, break it up into small segments and set realistic goals. Identify how much time you have available, what you need to achieve in this time, and how much you can realistically do in that time.

To improve information recall to over 80 percent, and to get a clear idea of an instructor’s main points taking good notes is essential.

Try out different methods of note taking and determine which one you prefer. Writing notes on paper has been shown to improve focus and help students to understand and process information on a deeper level. It is however slower than typing if you are trying to keep up with an audio lecture. Digital notes are a great option for students who are continuing their education on the road, as they can be accessed from anywhere without having to carry around a large pile of books.

Whatever option you choose to take your notes, make sure they are well organised and create a system for note taking.

The Cornell system is a popular method for note taking which involves dividing the page into three segments. The central segment is for notes from the class. On the left is a column for writing key words and main ideas to keep your study focused. At the bottom of the page is a third segment where notes can be summed up after the class. Remember to only write down the main ideas and use abbreviations rather than full sentences, so as not to miss crucial information while trying to take everything down.

Review previous notes regularly to commit this information to long term memory, so you can easily call on it in exams.