There are a lot of good reasons to take notes in class. Probably the best one is that when you take notes you are 34% more likely to remember the material. If you don’t take notes that drops to 5%. So, basically, taking notes improves your ability to remember the material 7 times more than if you didn’t take notes. How you take notes is also a factor. Studies consistently show that handwriting your notes improves memory and synthesis of material far better than typing your notes. That is because with handwriting you simply can’t write fast enough to get it all so your mind begins to make summaries and connections, which improves retention and learning. Another interesting fact is that drawing while taking notes actually improves retention as well. This is especially true if your drawings/doodles reflect connections between what is being taught and your personal experiences.
Chandrasekar Aleman lists 7 Key Benefits of Effective Note Taking. One that I think he missed is the impact taking notes has on the lecturer, be that in class or your supervisor(s) at work. When you take notes those speaking feel more confident that you will remember what is being said and that you consider the information important. I know from personal experience both in the classroom and with employees, I’m far more impressed with the student and/or employee when I see them making notes.
Here are some things I have discovered along the way that will improve your note-taking.
- Find a medium that works for you. I started out taking notes in a standard spiral bound notebook, but have moved completely to taking notes by hand on my iPad Pro using the Apple Pen in the app: Notability. I can’t say enough about this app and encourage you to check out this VIDEO. Notability works fine on any iPad and with any stylus, although I prefer a microfiber stylus. Notability gives you the ability to organize your material and keep it all with you. It also if fully searchable, even in the handwritten aspect.
- If you don’t have iPad or prefer to use paper, then I recommend you use an app like OneNote or Evernote, which I have touched on in other posts, and save copies of your notes, with appropriate tags by taking a picture of each page of your notes. By including the tags you can more easily find the information when you need it and by using the cloud service, you stand less chance of losing your notes or not having them when you need them.
- Take notes while you are reading as well. This can make a big difference come test time.
- Adopt your own personal code within your notes. For instance, if you feel something needs immediate action (e.g. “look up the economic influence of Eisenhower”), circle it and put a star beside it. Anything you can do to make your notes organized and emphasize the parts which you feel are more important will enhance learning.
- Try using a brain map for taking notes. A brain map starts with the topic under discussion and branches out with satellites into supporting information. This method can be particularly effective for opening up questions about how the information connects and will allow you greater insight. It also improves retention.
I can’t overemphasize the importance of taking notes in class for you personally in your quest to achieve your academic goals. Our goal is your success, but this is an area where your effort can make a big difference in achieving that success, both in the classroom and beyond.