The art of note-taking

October 29, 2016


Illustration by Ahmed Amin
Illustration by Ahmed Amin

As we grow older and move to higher grades, taking notes in the class becomes an integral part of learning. A teacher comes to the class, delivers a lecture and announces a test scheduled a couple of days later.

You go through your textbook and class work and while doing it, you try to remember what the teacher said in the class. You get stuck because while you did listen to the lecture, you didn’t note down anything to act as a guide for you. This is where note-taking in the class comes handy.

Taking notes in the class helps students retain what they hear in lectures and read in their textbooks, which makes learning it easier for the exams. Taking notes in the class is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to students, even though mostly it is taken for granted that they should be able to do it. It is something that should be done systematically and takes some practice.

naturally to students, even though mostly it is taken for granted that they should be able to do it. It is something that should be done systematically and takes some practice.

Today we will see how you can learn this skill of taking notes in the class to optimise your learning experience. If at first you find these tips a little hard to follow, though there is no rocket science to it, don’t worry, with maturity and as you reach higher classes, you will be doing it better.

Prepare beforehand

Noting down things that you are somewhat familiar with is easier than trying to note down something which you are getting to know for the first time. In this case, if you try to note down the lecture to a new topic, you will lose more than you will gain.

For one, in trying to write down things, your focus will not be fully on the lecture and you are likely to miss out and not understand what is being explained. So the notes will not help much when you will be going through it later on. But if you have read your textbook beforehand and have some background information, you will find it easy to spot the main ideas that need to be noted. Furthermore, you will find it easier to process the information being given and summarise it in the required manner to be noted down.

So to take down notes effectively in class, you need to know the content to some extent to identify the main ideas and key points. If the topic is unfamiliar, put your pen down and just listen first.

Illustration by Muhammad Faizan
Illustration by Muhammad Faizan

Where to note down

This depends upon the grade you are in and what your teacher prefers you to do — does he just wants you to listen to him with your pen down or lets you jot down things.

Next, it depends upon the amount of noting that is required, which again depends on your grade. Junior classes don’t require much jotting down and as the class level increases, so does note-taking. When you have your textbook open and the teacher keeps referring to it during the lecture, you can jot down points on the page being explained, preferably with a pencil, and underline the important words and sentences in the text. This will make it easier to learn it later on.

Another way can be to keep a rough notebook and note things there as the teacher may not like you to note down things in your regular class work notebooks which are submitted for checking. If you are allowed to do so, it is a good idea to note it at the back of your class work register or notebook so that everything is in one place for easy learning.

Pay attention

To jot down things, you need to pay attention to what the teacher is saying. But to note down the right things, you need to pay attention to how the teacher is giving the lecture.

You need to read the cues that indicate what the key points are and what the teacher is stressing upon. If a teacher repeats something more than once, lingers on the explanation and discussion of a particular area of the chapter, then that is important and note it down at once.

If the teacher explains something in a loud or animated manner with lots of gestures, again it is important. If he writes something on the board, it can be important too. And if something is explained with reference to exams or how questions about it can be asked in the exams, then it is the most important thing to note down — even if you have not been jotting down anything else during the lecture. And after noting it, draw a star near it or write ‘Impt’ next to it.

Keep it short and simple

The most common mistake that people make is that they try to note down everything that the teacher is saying — and, they, of course, fail. Nobody’s wrist and fingers can keep up with the teacher’s lecture speed.

And the second most common mistake is that they try to summarise what the teacher is saying in complete, grammatical sentences and they fail again.

You should note down only the key words and the main ideas, skip unnecessary words such as ‘the’, ‘and’, ‘was’, ‘are’, ‘to’, etc. Each sentence should not be more than about five words long.

Use a system of abbreviation, like that which you use in texting, to note down things. You don’t need to know the old conventional shorthand writing for this, you make your own system of shorthand that comes easily to you and you can understand later on.

For instance, I shorten ‘between’ to ‘b/w’, ‘because’ to ‘cos’ and ‘b/c’, ‘difference’ and ‘different’ to ‘diff’, etc. We use so much abbreviation when messaging our friends that it will not be too difficult for you to start using it in note-taking. But mind you, do not use it for regular class and homework because there it is not acceptable.

Make visual notes

You don’t have to note down a lecture using words only, you can draw pictures, diagrams, graphs, mind maps, arrows and lines linking words, absolutely anything that works for you.

All these visuals can help you recall the lecture and if the teacher draws anything, obviously you need to copy that. These can be used in any subject or topic, but it needs working on as you should develop a style of visual note-taking that you can easily note down and understand later on. There are many mind mapping techniques that are beyond the scope of our discussion here so if you are interested you can look them up and they will be of great help.

Published in Dawn, Young World, October 29th, 2016