The Dos and Don’ts of Note-taking

Taking notes is one of the most important skills we can develop as students and lifelong learners. Throughout education, our teachers continually urge us to give note-taking our best efforts, and not without good reason. Writing things down, in particular when done by hand, is indispensable to learning and delivers numerous benefits such as:

  • Better comprehension of difficult concepts. You can engage with the content and distill it to language you can understand.
  • Mental clarity. Systematically writing things down irons out your thoughts and organises information into a coherent format.
  • Information retention. A passive reception of new information is unlikely to become long-term knowledge. Taking notes, however, builds everything from facts and figures to academic arguments into your memory.
  • Boost to creativity. Effective note-taking encourages you to record your own thoughts, recognising links between concepts and between concepts and the wider world.
  • Encourages independent learning. Forgoing the need to rely on teachers and the internet to provide summaries, your autonomy in acquiring knowledge is strengthened.

That last point requires further emphasis. You can take note-taking far beyond the classroom. We all know that self-education beyond our school/university curriculums bolsters intellectual capital. Personal development resources champion reading as a core activity for lifelong success. However, passively flying through books and articles is of little use, and must be supplemented by an effective note-taking practice. Writing anything from a brief summary to a more thorough exploration focuses your attention on key themes/lessons/arguments and, should you go a step further by responding to the author’s message, encourages critical thinking.

In other words: taking notes throughout formal education facilitates learning as a continual, lifelong goal. Our age of technology bombards us with information. Notetaking, in turn, acts as an antidote for overwhelm and captures the quintessence of it all.

However, effective is a key word. And what exactly distinguishes effective note-taking from a waste of time? Why do some students spend hours writing out pages of information to no avail and mediocre grades?

I think the answer lies in technique and engagement. Bad note-taking feels easy: it creates the illusion of productivity, an escape from more demanding revision techniques such as past papers and flashcards. Good note-taking fully engages the brain, demanding you synthesise, organise and review the topic in question, and leaves you with a wholesome understanding. As stated by LifeHacker, ‘notes are tricky, because you want to keep things simple, and get down only the amount of information needed to help you recall it later’.

Because we all learn in different ways, not every note-taking method will work for you. Finding one that does requires experimentation and practice. However, there are several dos and don’ts we can all keep in mind, whether in school, throughout your career, or recreational learning, to make taking notes a worthwhile and fulfilling habit. View Full Post