Not only is taking notes a smart way to engage with anything you are trying to learn, but in some ways, taking notes actually makes us smarter. So be smart and do what good note-takers do. Even better, avoid the habits and strategies good note-takers DON’T use:
DON’T write down what the teacher is saying verbatim
People think about 450 words per minute. Yet we can only speak about 130 words per minute and only write about 25 words per minute. There’s no possible way apart from professional shorthand to write down everything a speaker says. Learning to use abbreviations will allow more information to be transcribed on the page, but again, the most essential skill in note-taking comes from learning how to actively listen to what the speaker is saying. With practice, those 450 words per minute running through a person’s brain can be formulated into main ideas with paraphrased details so that those points are more effectively being recorded through good note-taking.
DON’T take notes on a laptop
Unless handwriting is completely atrocious, don’t use a laptop to take notes. Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) of Princeton University showed that laptop users are more likely to take “lazy” notes, meaning that they are simply transcribing what the speaker says instead of using higher-order cognitive processes that lead to better integration of newly learned material. Also, the process of writing long-hand triggers a part of your brain that allows you to more readily translate new information into your long-term memory. It should go without saying that using a laptop provides permission for distraction. Better understanding comes with increased focus, so distractions should be kept to a minimum.
DON’T rely on someone else’s notes
Just like everyone has a different learning style, everyone has a different way of taking notes. Everyone processes information differently, so what someone else might find important to write down to integrate key concepts may not be as important to you. While it’s good practice to compare notes, your own notes should be your main resource for review.
DON’T give up if the speaker is going too fast
Some notes are better than no notes. If the speaker is going too fast, take the time to activate your listening skills. Try to focus on main ideas and jot down as much relevant information as possible. Leave space and fill in the blanks later when you review the material.
DON’T wait to start taking notes
Start taking notes the moment a lesson begins. In classrooms, teachers may start with a review of material and then provide a brief outline about what will be covered in class that day. Many speakers also provide an outline of what they will be presenting on. Take note of that because it will likely provide the structure of the main points the speaker will be covering.