4 Tips for Better Note Taking

December 21, 2016 Christopher Ruel

We asked faculty members for advice on how to encourage students to take better notes, and they gave us some excellent practical suggestions below.

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When a student comes to my office, I first ask to see his/her notes. The issue, I have discovered, is not that my students do not have the information in their notes; it is that they do not review the information or try to put it into context using examples for themselves. The methodology doesn't seem to be as important as the connection between "what the words mean" and "how do they apply"? I suggest to my students, each day after class, to make their review sheet of the new material covered in class. I expect that they should be able to answer the following questions:

  1. What terms are used?
  2. What does the concept look like (equation, symbol, drawing)?
  3. How is it used? Give an example of a question that could be asked.
  4. How is it similar/different from a similar idea that was discussed?

Often, the students who implement my recommendation see as much as a 20- 30% increase in their scores on the next exam. —Nancy Mullins, Professor, Florida State College at Jacksonville

I require my students to fill out a notes packet containing many of the examples I demonstrate in class. The students fill in the steps and concepts for each example. I also suggest that they add their thinking process for each of the steps, thus learning to see connections between different problem types. —Mark Clark, Associate Professor, Palomar College

I learned about the Cornell Note Taking Method from a family member of mine who teaches and works for the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) Program. The Cornell note-taking method is an integral part of that program. My students retain information better by actively taking notes, then reflecting on what they've written. As the students practice the routine, the techniques become habitual and result in continuous progress. —Douglas Petrick, Teacher, Upper St. Clair Township School District

There is increasing evidence that hand-written notes have a more positive effect on cognitive processing than typed notes. With the advent of the Apple pencil and the Microsoft Surface pen, a happy medium has been created where tablets have become working surfaces to take notes. As the technology improves, it will be great for students to take notes directly within digital textbooks and save them for later study. With the digital pen, we can save paper and enhance cognition. —Maryam Bamshad, Associate Professor, Lehman College

Image credit: iStockphoto/Getty Images


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