How To Take Notes to Guarantee Yourself an A

Studying is never fun. In fact, it’s probably the worst part of university despite the fact that that is the purpose of school. Who wants to sit down for 7days straight in a jam packed library and read textbooks?

Nobody. That’s who.

So how can you make it easier on yourself? Take some really good notes. Notes facilitate studying in so many ways. They help you look back at the course, summarize full textbooks, show key points the prof will grill you on and help you learn as you go through the course.

The only problem is that is actually really hard to take notes. You sit there for an hour and a half listening and trying to capture everything the profs say. That’s A LOT of stuff to write down, and you end up missing half of it, and forgetting the parts you didn’t write down. In my 18 years of education and 4 years in university, I have slowly mastered the art of note taking. Despite this, I still have trouble taking notes in meetings sometimes.

The first key to taking good notes is to remember one simple fact: you are writing notes for the future. Don’t ever assume you will remember ‘that little tidbit of info’ or the things the prof points out. Write it like you’ve never heard it before in your life because chances are that in 4 months when you’re cramming 4 other courses into your head, you will have totally forgotten about 60% of each of the course.

If you want to be a keener, I think the best piece of advice is to prep and read ahead of time. This way you’re not wasting time understanding and hearing the content for the first time. You know your problem areas, and can focus and be a little bit better prepared for all of the note taking.

Also by knowing the content ahead of time, your better understanding of the content will allow you to participate in discussion. When you participate in discussion, your understanding of the topic will evolve and set itself in your mind. You can build arguments for the essay portion of your exams. I did way better in all my classes that I was more active in. I had my questions set ahead of time instead of bothering to understand them 2 hours before the exam.

The best part about participation is that a) you grab those easy participation points which sometimes make up 10% of your final grade and b) you begin a working relationship with your prof. This relationship can evolve into a future job as a Teaching Assistant or Researcher.

Now I know most of you will not bother to study ahead of time. I’ll be honest, it takes a lot of commitment to follow through with that because  Facebook  > Reading Textbook. Actually almost anything is infinitely better than reading a textbook. So if you’re not going to read ahead of time, make the notes you have as amazing and easy to follow as possible.

Start with the basics and put your date and title at the top of the page. I have no idea how many times I needed to figure out some notes and had no dates to refer to. Titles also help you flip back to the right spot instead of searching through 56 pages of notes looking for the right topic. Make your life easy, and just take 5 seconds for titles and dates. No matter where you go and what you do in life, start with a date and a title because when you attend 5 meetings on 2 dates, those notes will make your life so much easier!

Next step is to simplify your note taking. After your first few classes, you can start to figure out a style and format for note taking. Organize your notes with colour coding (highlighters are great), using symbols to denote important topics and shorten words (all that time on MSN actually pays off!). Highlighting and using symbols will help you find important sections.

Shortened words are so insanely important. If you don’t have a laptop, hand writing can give you cramps and is pretty darn long! As a commerce student, I had to write the word management, organization and communication A LOT. Why write 10 letters when I can make that “mgmt”, “org” and “comm’n”. Save yourself the carpal tunnel, and create some short forms. Be careful though; make sure that you are able to understand these shortened words. As point number 1 says, notes are for the future, so if you can’t understand or remember what those letters mean, you’re screwed.

Another smart thing to do is get a buddy. You both take notes and fill in each other’s blanks if you miss something. One of you misses a class, the other shares their notes. One of the ideas I flip-flop on is sharing chapters. One person will take the first half and the other takes the last half; then you combine them and teach each other. It’s kind of the “efficient” (or slacker) way to take notes.

Make sure you focus on new content. If you bother writing down everything, you’re wasting your time. By 3rd year, you’ll start getting some repeater content from previous years. Take simple note of the topic, but don’t write down stuff you already know. You’re wasting your energy.

Lastly, turn off all the distractions! It’s impossible to take notes if you’re not paying attention. If you Facebook through a whole classes, you just wasted your time. Honestly, it’s probably better you stay home because I bet you’d be more productive there. Remember, profs aren’t stupid! They walk around and see you on your laptops watching Youtube. You will instantly get black listed in their books.

Try some of these tips and I can almost guarantee your grades will improve; you’ll have a better understanding of the course and stellar notes for studying for final exams.

Have any more tips or advice for writing notes? Maybe you have a topic you’d like one of us to post in our blogs? Leave a comment below!

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