Taking effective notes is a skill that is essential for academic success. However, most people have never learned to take notes in a way that is useful to them. In high school, teachers often give out review sheets, handouts, and worksheets to study from. This sets many students up for a stressful freshman year in college when professors most likely won’t be handing out study materials and expect students to apply critical thinking and conceptual understanding to what’s being covered in class.
A study conducted by education researchers Fisher and Harris (1974) showed that students who do not practice good note-taking scored significantly lower on recall tasks. Those students also scored lower on exams than students who did practice good note-taking. Here are some reasons why good note-takers are smarter than their non-note-taking peers:
1. Good note-takers concentrate better.
Think of effective note-taking as the brain’s training ground for critical thinking. Even the most tiresome topics can turn into a playground of cognitive calisthenics that can maintain interest and promote active engagement. Instead of daydreaming or losing focus when difficult or less interesting material is presented, good note-takers increase their concentration and understanding.
2. Good note-takers study less.
Everyone appreciates more time in their day to do what they love to do, and hardly anyone loves to spend more time on a task than they need to. Good note-takers spend less time outside the classroom studying because they learn to hone in on and analyze what their teachers think is most important. Also, good notes often contain information that can’t be found in textbooks or other resources and become the most efficient source to study from.
3. Good note-takers remember more.
A review of available note-taking research conducted by Anderson and Armbruster (1986) revealed that practicing good note-taking encodes new information in the brain in such a way that increases recall. Not all styles of note-taking will have this benefit, which is why it is important to note that effective and efficient note-taking should complement individual learning styles. However, the best note-taking systems for increasing recall require critical thinking skills, the actual physical process of writing, and time for review.
Of course, how smart a person is does not rely solely on their ability to take good notes, but practicing good note-taking can improve academic performance. The skills learned through the process of developing a good note-taking system are skills that will continue to reap rewards long after the days of academia are completed. Fortunately, anyone can develop these skills with some understanding of what creates an effective note-taker.