How can you take better notes in class?

April 12, 2022

Classwork can be challenging, especially for a grad student with reading, endless lectures, reports, essays, and presentations demanding your attention. In class, you may wonder about the best way to take notes, with some lecturers suggesting that every word they utter is gold!

You may feel overwhelmed between trying to pay attention to what is said and scribing notes on your notepad. Probably you have been taking notes in your previous lectures, but you feel you could improve your note-taking skills.

With online classes added to the mix, note-taking can even be more challenging. Students may reason that since they have videos that they can rewatch, what is the need to take notes? Nevertheless, note-taking is a valuable part of learning, whether you watch lectures or sit in a lecture hall.

This guide will provide you with practical tips to get the most out of a lecture session by taking effective notes. We will also show why note-taking is an essential part of your learning process.

If you want to hack that A grade that has eluded you since high school, you have no choice but to master notes-taking skills. The path to your career depends on how you pay attention in class and retain valuable information. Since we are not computers, our memories are fallible unless we have photographic memories. Your notes help to cover for memory deficit.

Without further ado, let’s get into tips for effective note-taking.

Tips for note-taking in class

Taking notes is something that goes on beyond the school year. Adults take notes in seminars and at work meetings. Mastering good note-taking skills can be helpful when you take minutes at your place of work.

Tip 1. Write down only key facts

Most teachers nowadays do not write notes for students on the board unless it is kindergarten. Your professor or teacher will likely speak, and it is your job to determine critical points and jot them down.

How do you know critical points in a lecture? The first thing you need to know is the subject of discussion. If you understand the topic, you will know the facts the lecturer is saying that you could write.

For instance, if you are in a history class and you hear the lecturer mention key dates of events, take note of those dates and events. If it is literature and your professor mentions examples of dramatic irony, hyperbole, or idiom, take note of these too. Write down fundamental mathematics formulas your teacher is using on a particular topic.

Listening to main ideas can be tricky for many students used to copying notes from the board. However, do not give up. Listen to what things your lecturer repeats in class because those are the things they want you to remember.

Tip 2. Pay attention

Although the whole “attention span shorter than a goldfish” thing seems to be a myth, that doesn’t mean that people have trouble staying focused in class.

Instead of daydreaming about going home to play Grande vegas casino bonus (I know, might seem tough!) as the professor dispenses important information, try and pay attention. Do not allow the joys or anxieties of tomorrow to prevent you from paying attention now.

How do you improve your attention? You could take coffee before class to help you stay alert. If your mind wants to wander, bring it back to class and pay attention to what the lecturer says.

Another way to improve your attention is to enhance your interest in the subject by looking it up before the lecture. If you have learned something interesting about the issue, you will likely pay attention to see if the teacher mentions those points.

Additionally, you could practice focusing on one object at home without allowing your mind to wander to improve your attention span.

Tip 3. Don’t overdo it

If you focus on writing almost everything the lecturer says, you may not understand the subject. You may struggle to understand those notes at the end of the lecture because you failed to listen.

The key to being a note-taking master is listening more and writing less. A calm brain absorbs more information by listening and writing less. If you notice a critical point, you write a brief note and go back to listening. There is more in the way something is said and that you can only learn via listening.

You can measure your success in this area by comparing your notes with what you remember. If you paid keen attention to what and how the teacher said specific points, a simple phrase is enough to bring to mind those points.

Tip 4. Ask questions

The lecturer or the professor comes to class to help you understand a topic they are teaching and will often welcome a question. Don’t be scared to request the tutor to repeat a point you do understand. It does not mean you are more stupid than the rest of the class.

Other students are afraid that other students will laugh for asking the obvious. You may be surprised that many students in the class missed the point but lacked the guts to ask.

If asking in class is a daunting task, especially if you are shy, approach the lecturer afterward and ask for clarification. Your notes are your lifeline when studying for a test; you want to ensure you have everything right.

Tip 5. Keep away distractions

We already said that humans have a dwindling attention span, and having any distraction will only injure that attention span even more. Therefore, when taking notes in a class, keep away attention stealers like mobile data and Wi-Fi.

If you receive an email or social media notification during lectures, your mind will automatically shift from the point being explained to the message. Don’t listen to music while taking notes! Some people also wear headphones or earpieces in class, but any vibration from the phone will leave them distracted.

Your focus is to get the most out of a lecture session. Since you have only one brain, minimize things that could distract you. Ensure your mobile devices are in silent mode because you could also affect other students’ attention when your phone rings or receives a notification.

Tip 6. Sit comfortably

When you have lectures, ensure you come to class on time and choose an ideal spot to sit. You may be disoriented if your favorite place is taken. For instance, if you love sitting in the front where it is quiet, you may fail to concentrate at the back with the noisy backbenchers.

Choose a comfortable sitting place that will allow you to listen attentively and take notes without interference. A cozy sitting spot is suitable for students who love a calm environment where they can only concentrate on the lecturer.

Tip 7. Compare

Carry your notes when you study the subject later in the library. You will have the opportunity to compare what you are reading with your messages and correct any discrepancies.

You can also compare your notes with what your friends wrote to help reinforce your learning. Ensure you review your messages immediately after the lecture to see if you remember what the teacher said. Going over the notes alone or with a friend reinforces them in your mind as you also weed off any errors.

Tip 8. Organize

This tip may not be valuable when the lecture is going on but is applicable after every lesson. One way to make the best use of your notes is to keep them organized so that you can easily find them when needed.

This could mean that you use different notebooks for various subjects. Some students use one notebook for taking notes and then copy these notes to individual notebooks when they arrive home. While this method will help you remember points, its success is pegged on regularity.

If you fail to copy these notes when you come home, your notes will be scattered all over the place. You will find revision daunting, and you may not make the best out of your notes when you want to study for a test.

Benefits of note-taking

Though some people think that note-taking is outdated, it has not disappeared. Researchers have even found that information written in a notebook has a 34% chance of being remembered, while the one not written has a 5% chance.

Effective note-taking has benefits beyond the record you have in your notebook. Here are some benefits:

It keeps you alert

Being alert is an integral part of learning, and taking notes will help to improve it. Taking notes keep your body active, thus preventing you from becoming tired or distracted.

It engages your mind

Notes-taking involves your brain since you will be looking for the next point to include in your notebook. It is one way to keep your attention focused on the task.

It helps to emphasize and organize information

You are better positioned to organize the information presented in class by taking notes. It will be easy to identify key and supporting points in the presentation for easier understanding after class.

It boosts understanding and retention

If you want to increase your comprehension and memory retention, note-taking can help you do just that. You will easily remember broken-down notes you wrote on a paper than what you did not write.

It teaches prioritizing skills

One important skill a student should master is their ability to select valuable material while discarding unnecessary material. Learning how to prioritize also improves a student’s organization skills.

It enhances a student’s creativity

Note-taking will improve students’ organization skills and enhance their ability to focus on one subject. These skills are necessary for motivating them to increase their innovation and creativity.

Handwritten vs. digital note-taking

People often ask if writing notes by hand is better than typing on a computer. Generally, studies show that humans tend to remember handwritten information than typed one.

Nevertheless, when it comes to choosing the ideal method for each individual, the answer to the question can be more complicated than you think. With the rising debate on minimizing carbon footprint, many people prefer digital notes to paper notes.

The two note-taking methods have their advantages and disadvantages worth considering. In some instances, you may only use paper when paper notes are inappropriate.

Advantages of handwritten notes:

  • You can create illustrations and diagrams easily with handwritten notes.
  • Students remember more of the things written on paper than on a tablet.
  • You have no distractions from notifications; hence more attention.
  • Writing on paper will not affect your eyes, unlike computers or tablets that will affect your vision with prolonged use.
  • It is cheap. The cost of a notebook is far below any tablet or computer.
  • You do not need to worry about battery life

Advantages of digital notes

  • The notes are shareable via mail or social media platforms. It means you can save your notes on your google drive for future reference.
  • Typing in a digital format is faster. This can be advantageous when the lecturer is taking it faster.
  • You can import the lecturer’s slides with a tablet rather than hand copy them.
  • It is easy to edit and adequately organize for later study.

The bottom line

Note-taking has not lost its glory. Over the years, this art has evolved, allowing learners to master challenging subjects. Whether using digital format or handwritten notes, note-taking has immense benefits. Did you learn additional tips to help you improve your note-taking skills in class? We hope you did!

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