How to take better notes

Studies show that note-taking makes the difference, but only if done correctly.

By Harrison McQuinn, Sports Editor

“Note-taking allows people to outsource their memories to an external source (paper),” according to an entry by The American Journal of Psychology.

Listening to lectures is one way to retain information, but taking notes is the stronger cognitive mechanism. There are several ways to take notes from classic methods like Cornell and outlining to the new-age approach of typing on a laptop, but writing has proven to be more effective when using the right technique.

Valley Professor Kenneth Feldmeier stresses the importance of notes as, “absolutely essential. If you ink, you think it.”

Feldmeier also lectures at College of the Canyons, and despite teaching over four years, has only recently introduced note-taking assignments to his classes. He assigns material to read then take notes in a Cornell style with one column for what students read and the other for what they interpreted. He claims to see upward trending for his students’ grades following this application of taking notes.

The Journal of Educational Psychology ran an experiment in which only one group takes notes. The students who took notes resoundingly scored higher on immediate and delayed-recall tests.

There is no strong argument against taking notes; however, some practices are statistically better.

According to the same study, the average student can write around .3 words per second whereas professors average a 2 to 3 spoken words per second.

With a ratio like that, time is of the essence. One way to keep up with the lectures is paraphrasing.

To paraphrase, one needs to improve their eye for detail, which will allow them to summarize information in their own words. If a term is presented and one simply copies the definition word-for-word, they are limiting their understanding.

Next time a professor cuts to a slide detailing socioecology in over 30 words, try summarizing as if explaining it to a friend at a stoplight. This method will save time and provide a clearer understanding of tough terms. Whether the technique is outlining, Cornell-style, mapping, or simple bullet points, paraphrasing is the secret to successful note-taking.

Students who take notes will ultimately be in a better place, especially when they get home and forgot what the professor discussed.


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