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Is it worth taking notes for physics/math courses?

  1. Jan 25, 2015 #1
    I note that I spend a long time taking/rewriting messy class notes, (~1-2 hours a day) time which I could rather be practicing/studying. Is it worth rewriting these notes and storing them in an archive, or would I better spend my time doing practice problems and just highlighting important stuff in the book?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 25, 2015 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    It is not only worth taking notes, it is usually essential.
    You need to practise taking notes more neatly ... I never bothered rewriting messy notes.
    I did find that I always remembered lessons where I took the notes - so barely needed them - but would never remember the lessons where I didn't... which is frustrating.

    You should experiment to see where you learn best for you though.
  4. Jan 25, 2015 #3


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    It is absolutely, without question, 100% essential to take notes in math and physics classes. That doesn't mean that you need to write down every single thing that goes on the board or gets said...but there are going to be new concepts introduced in basically every class. It's important to keep detailed notes. That's your transcribed copy of the lecture. It's a very important tool to have.

    If your notes are so messy that they require rewriting, then you need to work on a better system of note taking. I have never rewritten my notes, and they are always clear and organized. Time is definitely much better spent studying or practicing problems versus rewriting all of your notes.

    A lot of people are afraid of wasting space on their paper when taking notes, and this often turns notes into big jigsaw puzzles that are all jumbled up. I spread stuff out and leave a lot of space between things. Your notes should read like a book. You should be able to read it from left to right, top to bottom. Problems should be worked out clearly and the process from start to finish should be easy to follow.
  5. Jan 25, 2015 #4
    I too had the same problem, and I found something that helped. Instead of writing in a spiral notebook, I went out and bought a sketchbook (basically a spiral notebook of blank computer paper). For some reason, the lack of lines on the paper made my notes look much neater, and it also allowed me to have more room for diagrams and such. For the first time ever, I look back at my notes and they actually help.
  6. Jan 26, 2015 #5


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    ^^Expanding on that point, some people prefer to take all of their math/physics notes in graphing notebooks. It can certainly be useful when accurate diagrams and graphs are needed.
  7. Jan 26, 2015 #6


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    Different things work for different people. I always found that taking notes distracted me from thinking about the material during a lecture, so I took notes only occasionally. Worked for me. My son, currently doing maths at Cambridge, never takes notes and has no trouble with that approach. Others take notes verbatim.

    You have to do what works for you.

    Here's a recent bit of wisdom on the subject: http://www.vox.com/2014/6/24/5824192/study-smarter-learn-better-8-tips-from-memory-researchers
  8. Jan 26, 2015 #7
    I always stay at least two sections ahead of the lecture. I read the book rigorously, annotate it, and do problems. Rarely I would look at a solutions manual,. Therefore, when I go to a lecture I already know what things to listen for. Or if a Proffesor simplifies a proof or alternate method then what book shows. These two things are what my notes consist of.
  9. Jan 26, 2015 #8
    I go to a community college so I am able to interact with all math teachers. I had really amazing teachers that would stay a bit longer working problems on the board for me or quiz me on topics. The point of this story. Approach professors if possible and engage them. Do not kiss arse, rather be yourself. These techniques have kept my notes to a minimum.
  10. Jan 26, 2015 #9
    For myself, notes are actually often a distraction. I think in my case its primarily that I grip my pen/pencil with a death grip, so I write too slow to keep up with the instructor. So I end up spending all my time concentrating on copying the board rather than paying attention to what is being explained. Also, I can sympathize about the messy notes part, it also takes significant concentration on my part to write orderly, and I often just don't have the time to do so. One possibility, if your instructor is open to it, is to bring a digital recorder to listen to later.
  11. Jan 26, 2015 #10
    Depends on the situation. There are cases when you pretty much have to take notes because the textbook might be terrible or a textbook is not used. There were some classes in which I very effectively managed to not take any notes what so ever. I had a little technique that I started using in labs when the TA would give us the procedure, and we had to try to remember everything that was being said or else risk being confused about what we were supposed to be doing. I kept reviewing the lecture in my mind, every so often, making sure that I could summarize to myself all the ideas presented in the lecture up to that point. And then after the lecture, I'd try to reproduce a summarized version to myself, and once more later in the day when I got home. Worked pretty well. I am one of the people who finds writing somewhat distracting. If the lectures were less conceptual, I had a harder time remembering things, so I would tend to take notes in that case.

    Writing things down does help to implant things in your memory, too, though. A high school English teacher once had us copy down a story to illustrate the point that we remembered a lot more of it when we wrote it down and could answer many more of the questions.
  12. Jan 28, 2015 #11
    Writing notes helps solidify concepts you're learning. You enhance your learning by not only from "listening" but also, seeing, and doing (seeing and doing being you writing down notes and seeing what you're writing). You create more neuron connections which strengthen that concept in your mind.
  13. Jan 28, 2015 #12
    It honestly depends on you. For 99% of the population notes are absolutely necessary for most classes, especially mathematics and physics. If you are part of the 1% that has an eidetic or near eidetic memory, you don't need notes, you can remember everything, except maybe jotting down some formulas or complex mathematical things.

    It's safe to say that you will almost definitely need to take notes, so I would suggest you work on your note taking skills and try out a few lectures to see how much you can remember without notes.
  14. Jan 28, 2015 #13
    I don't have an exceptional memory. It's more about the techniques that I used. Plus, I would often just use the textbook to fill in anything I missed. If there was no textbook, maybe I could still catch most of it, but I would risk missing things, so in that case, I would be forced to take notes.

    This isn't exactly what I did, although there's some overlap between what I did and this, but does give you the idea that maybe most of us might not be making the best use of the brain that we have, rather than just not having that good of a brain:

  15. Jan 28, 2015 #14
    You're misunderstanding me, I'm trying to make the point that unless you did have an exceptional memory good notes are essential for a class. Your memory techniques are extremely useful for this because they will allow you to write your notes in the form of a summary of certain portions of the lecture rather than as a near perfect copy of the lecture itself. I would especially focus on understanding the concepts and writing down the practice problems and math behind it.
  16. Jan 28, 2015 #15
    As I said, there were classes where I never took any notes and did very well. I would just mentally summarize it to myself. I didn't have to write anything down, per se, although I would jot things down when I felt like it. If I missed anything, that's what the textbook was for. Actually, even before I starting doing that, I would sometimes just ignore the lecture completely and learn from the textbook and still did fine.
  17. Jan 28, 2015 #16
    Sounds like my method in a way. Did you also work from 2 books and ahead of the lecture?
  18. Jan 28, 2015 #17
    If I didn't like the main textbook, I would often look at another book or two. I tried working ahead of the lecture a little bit, but usually not too much.
  19. Jan 29, 2015 #18
    I think it depends on the professor/class.

    There are classes that it's absolutely necessary to take notes, as the professor uses several books, and there are others in which the prof. pretty much copies the info from a specific book, and all one needs to do to have access to the information is have access to the book.
  20. Feb 2, 2015 #19


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    I agree. I find that trying to keep up with writing down what the professor is saying only distracts me, and I learn nothing. It is much better for me to pay attention and ask questions about what is being said than trying to write everything. Clueless to what it is.
  21. Feb 5, 2015 #20


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    Someplace I read about a study of learning and retention. The basic idea was, learning and retention are enhanced by more paths into and out of the brain. So, seeing it, hearing it, and writing it, will tend to make most people retain information more effectively and completely. If you just listen and watch then you may do ok but adding the writing of notes will improve things.

    This will be really obvious if you compare it to straight up audio lectures with no visual part. Or just reading the text without doing the homework assignments.

    Another example is: If you do a presentation on a subject, the actual giving of the presentation will provide another pathway, and again solidify your retention of the information. So, talking to yourself while you do your homework is actually good for you. ;)
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