Department of Lifelong Learning: Study Skills Series
Note taking skills - from lectures and readings
When you are at university, the sheer amount of information that is delivered to you can be daunting and confusing. You may even think that you have to copy down everything you hear or read. When you are at a face-to -face lecture it is sometimes difficult to tell what is important and what is not. Distance learning students might feel the need to copy out fact after fact from readings and textbooks. When preparing for an exam or assignment, it is tempting to produce extensive notes on page after page of A4 paper. These methods of note taking are generally time consuming and ineffective and there is an easier way!
Effective note taking should have a purpose, should be well organised, and can be a time saving skill. This information sheet outlines the basic lecture and written source note taking skills. Firstly, we will try to understand why notes are an important part of studying. Then we will learn how to take, organise and store notes. At the end of this information sheet you will find an activity that can be used to test yourself. Your tutor or the Student Support Officer can provide feedback on this activity.
When you’ve finished this study skills package, you should be able to: l
List the reasons why students should take notes
Evaluate which information is useful and important and which is not Organise lecture or reading notes using a mind -mapping tool Demonstrate good note taking practice in the context of your subject area Understand how to effectively store and review your notes
Notes as a study tool
While most students anticipate that they will have to take notes at university, not many students take the time to discover how to take effective notes. In fact, some students even try to avoid taking notes by using tape recorders or by sharing notes with other students. Initially, these strategies may seem like a good idea, but in an academic context note taking is as important as assignment writing in that you are taking in information and then writing it back out again as a learning process (Rowntree, 1976: 112). Tape recorders and ‘buddy ’ note -taking arrangements should only ever be used in addition to your original notes, and never as a substitute.* The following list provides a few reasons why note taking is an important activity: l
Taking notes will help you to extend your attention span (Rowntree, 1976: 112). When reading or listening, your mind may tend to wander off. You might be inclined to think about work, money, or relationships. It is quite easy for other aspects of your life to pop into your head while you are listening to a lecture or while you are reading. Taking notes helps keep you focussed on your subject area and to the task at hand (Kesselman-Turkel and Peterson, 1982: 2).
Taking notes will help you to remember what you have heard or read (Kesselman -Turkel and Peterson, 1982: 3). We learn more effectively when we use multiple senses and multiple activities. When note taking we are using listening and writing skills and we are using our brain and muscles. Also, by writing down notes, you are paraphrasing the lecture or reading material into your own words and into a format that you are more likely to understand when you review the notes. And as an adult learner you are more likely to remember what you have heard or read if you take an active part in your learning. Rather than being a passive listener or reader, note taking makes you an active learner. The notes you produce are your own work and are a visible reminder of the effort you have put into the course. This in itself can be a motivational factor for your study!
Note taking helps you to organise the ideas you are learning about (Kesselman -Turkel and Peterson, 1982: 3 -6). Good notes should ar...