Five Strategies You Can Use to Help Take Better Notes

Effective note-taking can boost memory and comprehension skills.
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Taking notes is crucial to understanding and remembering material that you've heard the first time. Although good note-taking skills don't come naturally to everyone, you can learn some strategies to maximize their benefit. Restating lecture and textbook material is a cornerstone of this strategy, which is more likely to happen when you review your work on a regular basis. Students who follow these methods are likely to fare better academically than those who don't.

1 Cornell Method

One of the most commonly used strategies is the Cornell Method. Draw a straight line down your paper, about 2 1/2 inches from the left side, which creates a margin to record key words. In the right column, you'll have a six-inch box to jot down the main points, which you'll summarize in brief sentences, according to tips posted by Alexandria Technical and Community College. The key words jog your memory for future study, while the summaries provide a concise overview of the lecture.

2 Mapping

Sometimes, it's helpful to create a diagram of significant main points and sub-topics. Known as mapping, this technique is a visual way to condense material and show its relationships, Alexandria's overview states. Start by drawing a box or a circle in the center of your page, and fill in the main topic. Next, draw lines connecting each main idea to the box, and write them down. Draw similar lines for all relevant sub-topics, but keep them linked to each main idea.

3 Organizational Aids

Good note-taking becomes easier when you employ some basic organizational aids. Loose-leaf notebooks make it easier to rearrange the order of notes or additional materials like handouts and study guides. If possible, develop your own shorthand -- using such common symbols as asterisks or question marks -- to simplify the note-taking process. Leave blank spaces to distinguish the main and supporting points, or number each one. Save comments or questions for the margins of your paper.

4 Rewriting and Paraphrasing

Students should never approach note-taking as a rote exercise. The essence of good note-taking, according to Faculty Focus magazine, is the ability to restate or paraphrase what a student thinks the teacher is saying. Students will then gain a deeper understanding of the material, and the ability to relate new information to existing knowledge. Instructors should provide a few minutes in class for students to rewrite their notes, or read them aloud. This technique will improve comprehension skills and provide opportunities to clarify previous points.

5 Review and Elaboration

Reviewing material while it's fresh is one of the most effective ways to ensure its comprehension and retention. That's why instructors should allow a few minutes of class time for this purpose, Faculty Focus magazine suggests. The teacher can then devise questions or exercises that can only be answered by checking previous entries. Such methods enhance the value of notes and make students more likely to review them regularly.

Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.