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How do you take notes?

  1. Dec 14, 2013 #1
    It seems that lots of physics students, even graduate students have a problem with finding the most effective way of learning by themselves. So...how do you do it?

    Here's the situation: you have 1 book, 1 chapter, say around 30 pages, divided into subchapters, and some problems at the end. How would you tackle this so as to make sure you can do all the problems and understand as much of the subject as possible? Just give the detailed steps of your learning process.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 14, 2013 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    0) compose your self for study with no distractions, no music, no tv, no games, no nothing...

    1) collect hilighter, pencil, pens, paper or bound notebook and eraser and optional calculator...

    2) open book

    3) find chapter of interest

    4) read chapter section by section, underline with PENCIL things of interest and write them down in your notes

    *** I also write down the date in the margin on each page of my notes in case I drop them and I fold the pages vertically
    (habit from one of my favorite Math professors)

    5) write down notes that summarize the thought or thoughts in each section ( sufficiently so you could teach to someone)

    6) Notice how example problems are presented and solved.

    7) When you have a question write it down with a line in the margin and some space for answer

    (when you review make sure you find answers for your questions and place a check on the line)

    8) Start at problem 1

    9) write down what you know and what you are to find

    10) find it

    11) repeat for other problems

    12) when you're not sure go back to your notes first

    13) if the answer isn't there go back to the book and update your notes from whereever you find tha answer


    *** don't paraphrase the chapter write down simple bullets sufficient to jog your memory now and days later

    *** review your notes each day

    *** write your problems out neat and precise, they should be works of art, logic and elegance so you or a classmate will be able to read and understand them days later...

    that is all...

    computer off...

    ------- Ender ADDENDUM ----------------------------------------------------------

    If you plan to use a computer to do stuff then use OpenOffice editor and get familiar with its latex equation capability (slower than writing)

    If you plan to use and IPad then use GoodNotes and take photos of key equations to paste into your notes or use Myscript MathPad to get latex images via drawing them or simply write them in neat and precise.

    Alternatively some people use 3x5 cards with notes on them that they can shuffle and then work through to see what they remember

    Always keep in mind that you're studying to teach someone like your kid sibling or your dog which ever you like more. In some cases, it may be a Chia Pet.

    Lastly for Physics it helps to have Schaum's Outlines Handbook on Math Tables and Formulas easily accessible.
  4. Dec 14, 2013 #3
    I copy the entire chapter. Dunno, I feel like when I copy a chapter into my notebook, it sticks.

    I don't always copy the proofs of theorems, though.
  5. Dec 14, 2013 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    How do *YOU* study? How other people study doesn't really matter if it's not how *you* learn.
  6. Dec 15, 2013 #5
    Well, actually how OTHER PEOPLE study is very important. I'm not a know-it-all guru, I understand there are lots of things I could probably do better than I am doing now, that's why I started this thread. :)
  7. Dec 15, 2013 #6
    *Browse over the problems to see what I am supposed to learn.
    *Pour a glass of cognac/whiskey if evening and the mood is there, and turn on music
    *Read chapter and do the derivations in it
    *Throw notes in the trash bin
    *Do some problems, if a problem is hard I restart it several times until I can do it elegantly, fast and short
    *Throw the problem-solutions in the trash bin
    *If I later struggle with something based on it go back and relearn it until I know it by heart usually by the forth time or something.
  8. Dec 15, 2013 #7
    Interesting...is there any reason why you don't keep your notes?
  9. Dec 15, 2013 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    That's a good way too. It forces you to remember things better.

    Later as you get older notes help jog your memory as to where you left off, mostly when you get over forty and you have many more things to juggle in life. Also I tend to keep dated notes for doing monthly reports and time worked reports for contract work. Lastly, for long periods of time you might remember when you did something but what it was and so dated notes allow you to locate the pages quickly.

    I saw a guy on a flight reading a thick book, a novel I think and after reading a few pages, he'd rip them out. I thought this was really strange but I guess he didn't plan on keeping the book for a second read.

    As Evo said you still haven't described how you study? We could help improve if you show where it fails. Is it impatience when studying? Or not taking the time to answer or follow up on your own questions? ...
  10. Dec 15, 2013 #9
    Well, my style is relatively simple. I read each subchapter, write in my notebook everything, by doing all intermediary calculations, and then , after I finish the whole chapter, re-read all my notes and do the problems. Sometimes I create a chart, where I put the most important results, in a logical order, so that I can get a quick review, when needed.
  11. Dec 15, 2013 #10


    Staff: Mentor

    Does this work well for you? If so then don't change.

    One thing to keep in mind is detail, not too much and not too little. A researcher named Edward Tufte wrote a book about developing efficient charts. First you draw it then start erasing minor parts until you can't understand the chart in that way you're using minimal ink for maximal result.


    and the French invasion of Russia by chart of 7 variables:



    The same can be true for notes, write what you need to remember the material (in essence what's needed to teach someone the key points and do the problems). As time goes along your notes will become brief elegant expositions of the topic.

    They could even become your notes when you as a professor teach the same class.
  12. Dec 15, 2013 #11
    Well, it works, but it's a hell of a lot of work. The thing is that I don't understand the topic if I don't do all the intermediary calculations, and some books skip a whole lot of detail, so you can find yourself going over 2 or 3 pages per day... and if you're unlucky, you can even get stuck on the same page until you find out how to link two equations together. I find this very frustrating when I try and organize myself time-wise ("I'll finish this chapter in 1 week" etc).
  13. Dec 15, 2013 #12
    I'm not very orderly and it is boring to sort notes. When I kept notebooks I seldom ended up looking at them.

    If I need to review something again I always have the book, or internet. Looking it up in the book is almost as fast as looking at the notes when you have worked it before.
  14. Dec 17, 2013 #13
    I study in much the same way as Gullik. I read through a chapter and work through derivations. I'll look at other sources afterwards to see different ways that the material has been worked through, etc. I look for papers on pedagogy, try to find ways I could explain the material I learned to someone else. I also throw away the derivations I worked through. I work through problems and throw those away as well. I occasionally drink beer or wine while studying and I almost always listen to livestreams of video gamers while studying.
  15. Dec 17, 2013 #14


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    I read the chapter, work through the problems.

    Something I picked up from my father, which he developed when he was at MIT.

    Reverse Highlighting. It's fairly extreme but if there is absolute rubbish/non essential information, I just put a single line through it. It's still read-able, but I'm not interested in it. You know, some books have more than others. If it's a truly good text, I won't have much reverse-highlighting to do!

    Secondly, I start on the problem sets from a week ahead, so I'll have very specific questions to ask in lecture.
    I pick the hardest problems I don't quickly pick up on, and find more like them to do
    I pick the hardest problems and make practice tests as well, and time myself
  16. Dec 17, 2013 #15


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    From personal experience (posting in the GR subforum on this site, helping other people at office hours, peer tutoring etc.) this is such an effective way to reinforce one's conceptual understanding of physics.
  17. Dec 17, 2013 #16


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    Same here, It's way too painful going over old notes. I like to commit the major concepts to memory as best as I can, and use reference books to fill in the details.
  18. Dec 18, 2013 #17


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    I always found the act of taking notes more useful than the notes themselves. I assume it forced me to focus on the subject material.
  19. Dec 18, 2013 #18


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    How I learn is n=mostly not from notes but by hearing.And the most effective way of learning Physics is solving as many problems you can(Correctly)
  20. Dec 18, 2013 #19


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    I think there's some truth to this, but you also can miss side comments and other contextual cues that help with understanding while you're taking notes, so it's a trade off.
  21. Dec 19, 2013 #20


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    With a pen and graph paper.
  22. Feb 19, 2014 #21
    The No-Frills way (not applicable to today's power point lectures):

    Attend every lecture. If it goes on the blackboard, take it down in notes (dates of lecture, including meetings, social events, jokes before class, etc. Years later the jokes before class are poignant.).

    One time I could not figure the symbol the professor wrote on the board for the life of me during class. I reproduced the symbol on the board in my notes as he had written. I recognized the symbol after reviewing the notes later.

    I'm sure books on notetaking have a better way but this is no-frills.
  23. Feb 19, 2014 #22
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