How to perfect your notetaking skills
Instead of mindlessly copying down the notes on the board or dismissing any handouts given to you in class, it is essential to recognise the importance of effective note-taking. Your notes are meant to be your study guide as you prepare for school assessments and the HSC, so if your notes are not concise, organised or complete, how do you expect to do well? Note-taking is an important skill to have as a student. By following these tips, you will be on your way to improving your marks and be much more prepared for any assessment.
The most effective method of note-taking varies from person to person, so figure out which way is the best for you! It may take time to develop the most effective method for you personally, but you can start off by trying these tips:
Use an effective note-taking medium
Depending on the subject, students typically hand-write notes in an A4 ruled notebook or type their notes on a laptop. Though typing notes on a laptop is much faster and can be easily rearranged, it is difficult to include diagrams and may be harder to retain information (you are also very easily tempted to drift onto social media during class). Handwriting notes requires more concentration and is more effective in the learning process. By writing your notes, your handwriting becomes much neater and faster (which is highly beneficial during exams) since you are constantly practising your handwriting.
Start each lesson/topic on a new page
It is important to date and number each page (arrangement of material and organisation is important!) This way you can easily flick to the topic you need as it will be in a sequential order that is easy for you to follow.
If you are studying Science (Chemistry, Physics, Biology), you can use the syllabus dot points as a guideline to organise your notes.
Each page should be organised in a clear manner so you can have space for your own notes-to-self, questions or summaries. For example, the ‘Cornell System’ has been known to be a successful way for students to structure their notes:
– Rule a margin (about a third of the page from the left) to create space for any personal notes, brainstorming, questions or key words
– The right side of the page is for note-taking
– Leave about 5 cm at the bottom for a summary after reviewing your notes
We have a bunch at our reception desk, so feel free to take some!
But remember not all students learn the same way, so you can develop a structure that works for you – make sure it is simple and efficient!
Write down key facts
Learn to differentiate notes that are necessary and not just write down what your teacher says verbatim. Instead of paying attention to what is being taught, you will end up focusing on writing everything down. Alternatively, you should write down any details or explanations to support the main points – don’t forget to write down examples and solutions!
Stick to key words and short sentences (using dot points is very effective) – paraphrase what you hear and write notes in your own words. But, definitions should be written out word for word the first time you learn them to ensure you understand the formal definition. Drawing out any diagrams or charts that supplement key information will provide a visual representation of the information. You can also use a system of abbreviations or symbols that you understand to aid you in remembering any important ideas.
For Sciences, the syllabus dot points should help you determine what you need to know and what to focus your notes around.
Emphasise key points
Use a highlighter, one or two different colours, or underline any essential information and key ideas. When you flick back through your notes, you will know which points you need to focus and practise on. You can also use sticky notes for formulas or tabs in your notes to organise sections.
Make space for more ideas or questions
Leave a few lines under a topic to allow you to add any extra information after your initial note-taking. If you come across other study resources with some more information you would like to write down, you can add it to the space you left and keep it under the corresponding section rather than adding things on a different page. You can write down any questions you want clarified and later write the answer under the relevant topic.
Review and edit your notes
Reviewing your notes is the most important and essential part of successful note-taking. There is no point in writing notes if you don’t look over them regularly after you’ve written them. After you have written your notes in class, go over them at home and edit anything that doesn’t make sense or take note of anything you don’t understand.
If you are given any handouts during class, make sure you incorporate them into your notes using your own words. Handouts are a valuable resource that often provide good summaries and questions for each topic.
Practise some questions using your notes – this is a way to see if the notes you have taken are effective for your study and cover all the main points.
If you have some incomplete notes for maths or you want to add some more examples, you can have a look through HSC101 to enhance your knowledge and understanding. There are heaps of videos and example questions for each topic to supplement your notes, and you can ask our HSC101 team if you’re stuck on a theory or a question at home.
Afterwards, you should rewrite or type up your notes in a more organised manner so you have a clean and concise set of notes when approaching exam period (fix up any errors in your notes and add in some information and examples to help you understand a concept more). Use some external references such as EIM notes, textbooks or previous students’ notes to compare and improve on your own.
Too many students overlook the importance of effective notetaking – it greatly improves your retention and understanding of topics, and it plays a significant role in your exam marks. You will have learnt all the content you need to know before the time exams come around, rather than cramming everything into a few days. This will relieve a lot of stress and will enable you to have more confidence in yourself. Successful notetaking is a skill that must be practiced, so start as soon as the term begins so it develops into a good study habit for your school year.
Click here for a PDF with some examples of notetaking methods that have been successful among previous students.