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Is it worth taking notes for physics/math courses?

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?
 

Simon Bridge

Science Advisor
Homework Helper
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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.
 

QuantumCurt

Education Advisor
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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.
 
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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.
 

QuantumCurt

Education Advisor
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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.
 

IGU

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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
 
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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.
 
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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.
 
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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.
 
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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.
 
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.
 
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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.
 
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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.
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:

http://www.ted.com/talks/joshua_foer_feats_of_memory_anyone_can_do?language=en
 
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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:

http://www.ted.com/talks/joshua_foer_feats_of_memory_anyone_can_do?language=en
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.
 
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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.
 
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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.
Sounds like my method in a way. Did you also work from 2 books and ahead of the lecture?
 
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Sounds like my method in a way. Did you also work from 2 books and ahead of the lecture?
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.
 
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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.
 
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
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.
 

DEvens

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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. ;)
 

QuantumCurt

Education Advisor
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That has been my experience. Things are best learned when you access the information in a number of different ways. This is the main reason that I love my job as a math/science tutor. I get to consistently revisit a lot of concepts and explain them to others. I've definitely retained much more of the information from my classes due to that.

Although to be fair, that does vary from person to person. Some people really do learn more effectively when they spend more time listening intently rather than writing notes.
 

mathwonk

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There is no one answer. The main problem with taking copious notes is that one usually cannot also listen well, and hence spends the whole hour without learning anything. Then it is essential to study the notes carefully, preferably right after the class. If one reads ahead on the topic of the lecture, then one can listen more easily since one already knows most of the content. Then one can take notes on the new parts, or take notes for emphasis on the important parts even that one knows already, since less effort is spent hearing the lecture.

But there are many types of courses, some following a text closely, and others in which the professor is making up the presentation nightly from his own expertise. In this latter case one cannot prepare the material in advance. It sometimes helps here to not take notes in class, to listen as well as possible, maybe jotting down a few words, and then after class go to the library and try to write down from memory what has been understood from the class. Then one might try to discuss with a classmate what one has missed. This is very scary, since one is afraid one is missing things one cannot recover, while only listening. In practice this can work well, but it takes a lot of effort and nerve.

I seldom had this nerve, and spent years taking hundreds of pages of notes, all of which were eventually thrown away, mostly unread. The most successful classes for me were ones where I worked through the notes right after class faithfully, and perhaps wrote them up again. It also helps to discuss the ideas with peers and to visit the prof and ask questions. It is true that writing things out help the learning process, and one should spend as much time writing up explanations and working out examples as feasible, mostly outside class. Preparing presentations to peers is also very useful as is tutoring younger students.

When I really wanted to nail one class, I would study also alternate books on the topic, in addition to the required ones, to learn from a different perspective, learn things left out by my professor, and see more and different problems and applications. It really impresses the prof when you include a proof on the exam that he himself has omitted from the course.
 

QuantumCurt

Education Advisor
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It also depends a great deal on the class. In my math, physics, and chemistry classes I've always taken a lot of notes. Just about everything that goes up on the board/projector gets copied into my notes. I've had other classes like philosophy and anthropology though where I ended up writing less than 10 pages of notes throughout the entire semester. In the more note-heavy classes, I've always found a balance. If one takes too many notes during class, it as it the expense of listening critically. However, if one doesn't record enough notes there may be too much new information at once to remember all of it.
 

Stephen Tashi

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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.
Do you learn anything by rewriting the notes? If you find yourself "lost" or inattentive in class, then your notes are likely to be inaccurate as well as messy. It's a good discipline to be aware if your notes make sense since they remind you of what you don't understand.

Things covered in class can be less, more, or equal to what's in the text. If the instructor doesn't follow the text closely, you need to have good notes.
 
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I could usually fit all my notes on a 3x5 card. I found I could either write everything down or listen and understand and just jot down an occasional important point. I'm sure that's a very individual choice.
 

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