Thursday, 24 December 2015

14. Taking notes, making notes - effective?

Taking down notes during lectures is something I did at university from first year. I'm not sure if I can say the same about my high school years - I cannot recall, but even if I did take down notes during classes then, I most probably did not even go back to those notes, and I know for a fact that I did not make notes outside classes- whether just to wrap up on the topics/ chapters I learnt or for exam preparation.

I've spent about 5 years at university for undergraduate studies and realized the importance of taking down notes and making notes. The question is : how can we make note-taking and note-making effective?


As much as I used to take down notes during lectures at university, I did not find it effective until I started pre-reading and saw the benefits in my fifth year when I was repeating final year. Pre-reading helped me to at least have an idea and some understanding of the chapter/(s) that were to be covered in lectures, which helped me to be alert of things the lecturers said that I came across during pre-reading, which also made it easier for me to make summary notes during the lectures using what I had pre-read together with the lecturers' insight on the relevant topic.

Pre-reading made note-taking during lectures effective, but the manner in which I took down the notes was a challenge. I tried to find a way to write down the notes in a manner that will make it easier for me to read them, a way that will ensure that the notes are always in cohesion and understandable. The idea of having separate headings in my writing book, ready for me to simply write notes under them when the lecturers talk about the relevant topic - it sounds like a brilliant and very convenient idea, but it's also very much a certain extent: I could write fast, follow what the lecturers said as much as possible, make sure I jot down the key points of the lecturers' insight, but I couldn’t predict how much space to leave out. I couldn’t tell how long or short my notes would be.

What I ended up doing was drawing a margin on the left side of each page, writing on that margin when I ran out of space, especially when I wanted to make additional notes that related to a particular paragraph in my summary notes, and connect the paragraphs and additional notes with arrows, but this made my notes much messier and compressed, making them less convenient to read and lacking cohesion. This usually happened when the lecturers provided additional information on a topic that had already been covered some minutes ago, and when I could not see a logical flow of the topics lectured.

Regardless, I did find note-taking during lectures effective. It made me alert of topics/ chapters covered in lectures on that specific day or week. It also helped me to minimize the amount of studying that I would have had to do, because the summary notes made during the lectures reflected my understanding of some (sometimes all) the topics/chapters covered.


When I was repeating my final year during my fifth year at university, I became aware of the fact that lecturers do not always cover the whole chapter, and we as students are required to study certain sections on our own, because the duration of lectures is not enough to cover everything.

I know that making notes outside lectures takes a lot of time, well I assume it does, and that's exactly what demotivated me to make them in the first place. I preferred to add onto the lecture notes I made after post-reading (more on post-reading on the blog post titled “What pre-reading and post-reading meant to me”) instead of starting notes from the beginning. The benefit of making notes, I can imagine, is that there'd be more of a flow - more cohesion, and the notes would be easier to read than the notes I used to make as described earlier.

As much as I was still investigating and motivating myself to find effective ways of taking down notes and making notes during my final year, the greatest benefit I discovered is that note-taking and note-making made things simpler for me when it came to preparing for final exams. I simply had to find the notes I made on the relevant chapters (which was easier when I flagged my notes), and read my notes to refresh my memory instead of studying from the very beginning - which would have been stressful for me personally. I cannot stand putting pressure on myself to study a chapter/(s) within a few days before the exam. This is why I also realized that it was best for me to pre-read and make notes during the year so that there is less anxiety and stress when I prepare for term tests, mid-term tests and final exams.

What are your thoughts on taking notes during lectures/ classes and making notes? How has your experience been? What have you found to be effective for you?

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Thank you so much for your time and consideration. Till next time :)

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