Note Taking Strategies

Doing well in University is sometimes less about how smart you are and more about how smart you work. It fares well to understand your own study style early on. For me finding the best study method was quite challenging. Now that I have started my third year at U of T, I feel that I have picked up on some useful strategies and skills, which have made my academic goals much easier to achieve. In this post, I hope to share with you an important part of my study routine—how I take good study notes. As a first-year student, I was that keen student who attempted to handwrite every single word the professor said. I thought that was the only way I could ensure I wouldn’t miss any important pieces of information. I quickly realized that this was not high school anymore and professors most likely will not pause the slide to make sure every student had copied down every word. This method was also time consuming and not to mention very unnecessary. I was more focused on copying the slides than I was on what the professor was actually saying. Later, like most other people, I started printing out the lecture slides before class and would add brief notes throughout the lecture. This was a great strategy. For those who prefer to have a physical copy of their notes this is probably the best and most common note taking method. However, I did realize that printing out slides for every class would be a waste of a lot of paper and ink. Personally, I like to avoid wasting paper as much as possible so I switched to typing my notes. This is the strategy I still use and it has worked well for me so far—it saves time, is efficient, and helps me organize my thoughts much better. If you do decide to take notes on your make sure to double check with your professors if laptops are allowed!
A picture of my lecture slides.
To save paper I have switched to taking notes on my laptop.
A good habit I have acquired this past year is reviewing and re-writing my notes after class. There are so many scientific studies that show how beneficial this is. The information you learn during class does not enter your long term memory until you review the content within 24 hours—this is how the information will “stick”. This makes revising before midterms or exams so much easier because you’re brain can already recall a lot of the information. When planning out my day, I make a point to set aside time to rewrite my notes and study them briefly. Usually, this takes about an hour per lecture, so you can use this as a guideline for your schedule.
A picture of a mind map .
Mind maps really help me see the bigger picture.
  Throughout the semester I use this method to organize my notes and make sure I understand the material as the class proceeds. Then, one to two weeks before an exam, I take these detailed notes and compile them into brief study notes. I continue to do this until I only need a mind map to help me recall the information. Rewriting and then later condensing my notes has helped me study so much more efficiently. It helps me test myself and helps me set aside the material I already know well in order to focus on the more difficult content. I suggest that everyone experiment with different note taking methods in order to find what method works best for them. Everyone is different and thus studies differently. Some other study strategies I suggest are making flashcards out of lecture notes, making mind maps to help you understand the content better, and even re-listening to lectures for clarification. I hope that by sharing my study routine, I have helped some of you who may be struggling to find a method to manage note-taking. In later posts I will be sharing more of my study strategies, so stay tuned! Until then, take care!

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