Organized Charm: How to Take Better Class Notes

Friday, April 18, 2014

How to Take Better Class Notes

My note taking has evolved SO MUCH over the years! In high school, I don’t think I ever took a single note (I was seriously the world's worst student). In college, my OCD really kicked in and I went a little crazy with trying to take perfect notes… which just ended in frustration. 

Today, I am kind of right in the middle and I must say that it’s working perfectly. I leave class with super thorough notes but I don’t obsess over how they look. Best of all? I am able to reference and retain the information from my notes (which was kind of the point of taking them to begin with)!

Here are the 4 strategies I use for taking notes in class:


1: Write constantly

From the time the professor starts talking to the time he/she stops, I am writing. It doesn’t matter if I already know the information. Writing keeps my brain from wandering off into La-La-Land for a half hour (which is pretty common). 

Best case scenario: I stayed focused and left class with really thorough notes. 
Worst case scenario: I stayed focused and left class with really thorough notes. 

I can’t stress how important doing this is!

2: Let go of perfectionism

When I just a baby freshman/sophomore, my goal was to leave class with perfectly color-coded, outlines, fabulous-looking notes. In real life? Not gonna happen. Professors get distracted, they go off topic, they skip slides. Save yourself a meltdown (or 12) and just use one writing utensil (preferably, a pencil) IN class. You can convert your sloppy notes into a colorful, organized, pretty outline after class!

3: Rephrase information as you write

I just realized that I’m going to have to write an entirely separate post on this because it has just been THAT helpful in my college career. It all comes down to this: when you get information and you write it down word-for-word, your brain is not really engaged. However, if you read notes from a PowerPoint slide, rephrase them into your own words, and write down your words (instead of the teacher’s), you are evaluating the information and then creating something of your own! This way, you are more likely to understand your notes in the future!

4: Attach an image to each concept

I really cannot stress how important this is! Definitions are boring. Words on a page are meaningless. And you will never remember what was covered in class if you leave with a notebook full of generic definitions. If your professor gives you an example/story, write it down, draw a picture, create a little graphic. Whatever you can do to attach that new concept with something that you already know/understand… this will help you remember the concept and see how it applies to real-life events.

And if your teacher doesn’t give you an example, they aren’t very good ASK for one!

Those are the things that have worked really well for me with regards to note-taking in class. Have you tried any of these strategies yourself? Or do you have any others that you have found particularly effective? If so, write them in the comments so we can all benefit :) 
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