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Seeking Advice on Note-Taking

  1. Jul 9, 2014 #1

    I am a rising sophomore with majors in a microbiology and mathematics. I wrote this email to seek out your advice on the note-taking skills, as I recently realized that I do not have the efficient note-taking skills. I tend to write almost everything my lecturer said (especially in chemistry and calculus), event though I know I only have to write the major concepts and uncleared portions. However, I feel like I have to write the instructor said, like writing down every examples with solutions the lecturer poses. Plus, I also write the notes from my textbook to the notebook. My note-taking skill became inefficient for me, as it costs several hours. I just planned new note-taking strategy for me, and I would like to get your inputs and other suggestions you have.

    My new strategy is to use the textbook as a notebook; I read the relevant chapter(s) before the lecture, and make sure to grasp the whole chapter. Then during lecture, I write down only the major concepts and confusing portions into the piece of paper. Then I write those into my textbook's corresponding chapter(s); if the instructor goes over the examples, then I write all of them down into separate piece of paper and keep it. I think writing notes in my textbook will prevent me from spending several hours writing notes from the textbook into separate notebook, which I think is just an act of re-writing what the textbook said.

    I apologize for this long post, but I would really love to stabilize my note-taking skill since I will be taking intensive science courses on next semester: organic chemistry, immunology, biochemistry, and multivariable calculus-linear algebra.

    Thanks for your time!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 9, 2014 #2


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    Gold Member

    Yes, I personally would never sit and copy notes from a textbook into a notebook. As you said, it can be very time-consuming, not to mention all of your other courses that would probably need a similar treatment. Besides, especially in the sciences, the real learning is done when you tackle problems, not by parroting definitions back into a notebook. What can be effective, however, is summarizing and condensing definitions, useful for revision.

    Your idea of reading the relevant chapters before the class is what I try to do so that you have, depending on the difficulty, at the very least some kind of perspective on the lecture topic. You can fill in parts of the topic that were perhaps more challenging by listening to the lecturer. Although not every body likes the idea, I find writing in the margins of the textbook (in pencil) to be useful and it appears you do to.

    I think it is important to get the balance between reading the notes and doing the problems. Sometimes I don't do as much as the former and wade into the problems a bit to quickly and sometimes it is the other way around. It just takes time to realize what is effective for you and, at least in my opinion, your new strategy is more productive than your previous one.
  4. Jul 9, 2014 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    Have you seen this system?


    I first discovered it in an iPad app that is they provided the page layout and it got me curious to check into it further.

    I don't think its actively used at Cornell or any other place for that matter...


    What I like about it is the keywords in the left column and the summary at the end.

    I've also read where people say its a bad idea to use a tablet or computer to take notes. It distracts your brain enough that you may miss something the prof says.

    There was one iPad app Notability that had a recording feature which was tied to what you write so that by selecting the text later it would reset the recording to that moment and you could hear again what the prof said.

    I figured if you merely placed a check when you heard the prof say something then later go back and fill in the note that that would work much better.

    Also it gets you to review your notes after the lecture which is always a good idea (for followup and overall retention)

    For my own case, I keep a notebook at work where I simply date entries. It helps when writing up monthly summaries of what you worked on, problems you found, fixes you made... I use underscore lines to highlight certain text and place a blank underline in the left column for action items which I check when I've done the action or X'ed when I decided to skip it.
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2014
  5. Jul 9, 2014 #4


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    I don't take notes in math classes. The best thing to do is try to stay a section ahead of the class so nothing surprises you. I only write down short comments to understand a trick for something. I use the time they lecture to understand what theyre saying.
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