Note taking is a discipline that can be quite hard to master and actually takes a lot of practice. Most of the time it is about consistency. However, it can still be hard to absorb every little detail of what your lecturer has been talking about for the past two hours, especially first thing on a Monday morning. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to take notes so efficiently when a flood of information is coming towards you, but here are some tips I have used in taking my own notes in my lectures.
Before you can even start to comprehend your course content, you need to make sure that you have put your phone on silent and out of reach. Make sure that there is not something in your peripheral that might draw your attention away from your notes because those few seconds you’re not paying attention can really throw you off. Also, be sure to eat beforehand because for me especially, hunger can be a huge distraction.
Drop the aesthetics
While we all want those picture-perfect notes that are worthy of their own studygram, this can be a huge time waster when you need quick notes. Especially in that moment of your lecture. The core to your notes is that they are YOUR notes. They are crucially beneficial to your studies and made for your eyes. So, as long as you can successfully memorise and summarise the content in a way that you can understand, there is no need to spend fifteen minutes curating a perfect title page. Don’t get me wrong, you can always make them look pretty later, and rewrite them as a way to study and help remember them. However for the moment, aesthetics should be the last thing on your mind.
Despite having just suggested to drop the aesthetics, a highlighter can still be your best friend. When you come back to your notes, highlighting what you found important helps you find it much quicker when revising. Or, for example, I’m currently in the process of writing my dissertation and when there is a topic or quote that I find relevant to my diss, I highlight it so that later on I can come back and see that this is something I can specifically include in my research. Instead of reading every single note that was handwritten, the bright pink underline is much easier to spot.
Develop your own shorthand
When bearing in mind that your notes are tailored to your own understanding, you can use abbreviations or symbols to substitute for a full word. As long as you can remember what that symbol means you can save yourself a lot of time with this technique. Just make sure your meaning is clear and remember this is the only time spelling and grammar do not matter, so worry about that later when you have to time to go over them.
Determine what is important
Do not write down every single word. A lot of the time you will only need certain aspects of the information you are given. You need to be able to identify what is key content. Get down those dates, authors, keywords etc. Also copying down something word for word, especially if you forget where you got it from, can be a risk of plagiarism when you come to use your notes for an assignment. So, when you get a long quote on a slide, just paraphrase it in a way that makes sense to you.
Once the lecture is over, go back and summarise what you understood from the lecture content. Go back over your notes and if there is something you didn’t quite understand, you can always go back or ask for help. A summary can be quite helpful for writing essays later on as you evaluate what you have learnt and then how you might apply it later on.
Continue the discussion
While this tip is not completely relevant for actually taking notes, I still want to stress the importance of peer discussion. It really helps put things into perspective and when you’re hearing other people’s thoughts and opinions on the topic, it clarifies a lot. Plus, I found that I remember and process information a lot clearer and quicker when I’m vocally articulating it to someone else.