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

Effective Study Techniques To Use For Any Subject

No one can deny the joy of winter transforming into spring, of days getting longer and a genuine mood of optimism which is tied to the arrival of warm weather. However, spring is when many students must start studying for upcoming exams. If this is you, ‘stress’ is likely to be your most-used adjective. And if you’re at a different stage in your education, you may be wondering how to remember avalanches of new information while working on assignments and practicing the skills you need to get good grades.

Well, if consistency is key with anything, it is studying. Consistently going over older topics throughout the academic year and making the effort to understand trickier ones straight away will save you the grief of facing the unfamiliar a week before your exams. Always start early to give yourself the opportunity to find techniques which work for you and after that, apply them on a regular basis. This principle, although explained in simplistic terms, guarantees less stress in the run up to exams. Throughout my International Baccalaureate (IB) experience, frequent revision throughout the programme was my saving grace: given the absence of exams in your first year, two years’ worth of information has to be firmly planted in your mind for a three week exam period , which is better done far in advance than days before your first paper.

However, as mentioned, how we best retain information depends on our individual characteristics and the subject for which we are studying. For example, a visual learner will find greater utility in colourful mind maps than an auditory learner, and flashcards could prove futile for exams which test critical thinking as opposed to memory. You have to remain flexible and adjust your strategy based on what’s required and what works for you. In other words, not retaining information through a specific technique does not make the exam a lost cause; you must simply step back and search for a different method.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite ways to study that are pretty interdisciplinary and can be adapted based on your preferred learning style. These are active ways to retain information because they push you to engage with the content, unlike something passive like reading textbooks and/or taking notes (but, both of these are important and I will be doing a separate post on how to maximise their potential soon). Also, keep in mind that I am neither a teacher nor examiner; all of these tips are recommended based on my experience. They will not work for every reader, and my advice is by no means composed of indisputable facts! Always seek help from members of your educational establishment if you are struggling with understanding content or forming your revision plan.  View Full Post