Students, Take Note: Your Note-Taking Matters

From fostering the development of critical-thinking skills to boosting the retention of knowledge, note-taking is one of the most important skills a student can possess and refine.

Effective note-taking allows students to efficiently review and retain information that will appear on assessments or be useful in future applications. It also can reveal clues as to what the instructor views as important and what material may be included in test questions.

Research has shown that retention of information decreases over time. In one study, participants on average were able to recall 50% of an important lecture after one day, 35% after a week and just 20% after two weeks.

However, researchers found that students who adopted a note-taking strategy demonstrated higher levels of listening comprehension.

Note-Taking Tips

Given the multiple benefits of boosting knowledge retention, whether in school or at work, let’s consider some steps for developing effective note-taking skills. (And, remember, feel free to take notes.)

  • Listen: Taking good notes can help you stay engaged with a professor’s lecture, but it’s important not to overdo it to the point that your notes become a distraction. Part of the skill in taking notes is learning how to dissect what is being said and capture what is important. This can nurture critical thinking and listening comprehension. If information is emphasized, numbered or repeated, it’s probably a good idea to make a note of it.
  • Ditch the laptop: There’s something to be said for going old school when it comes to note-taking. A study published in the journal Psychological Science found that students who took notes in longhand fared better when answering conceptual questions compared to peers who used laptops for note-taking. The tendency of digital note-takers to “transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning,” the researchers noted.
  • Develop your style: Symbols and shorthand can make note-taking more efficient, so find a system or style that works for you. As long as you can understand your notes, it doesn’t matter whether someone else can decipher them.
  • Be prepared: Through the repeating of material and the connecting of new information to old, the human brain develops neural networks that allow for easier and quicker accessing of learned information. With this in mind, students can prepare for effective note-taking by completing relevant reading assignments in advance of lectures, combined with reviewing their notes from previous lessons.
  • Block out distractions: Students pursuing a degree online may find themselves facing a variety of potential distractions, from dealing with work-related projects after hours to getting the kids fed and ready for bed. With so much already on your plate, do yourself a favor and avoid the long menu of temptations on your smartphone, tablet or desktop. Refrain from opening tabs that are unrelated to your coursework, and place your focus squarely on the lecture and your note-taking.
  • Review your notes: After a note-taking session, quickly review what you’ve written in order to reinforce your understanding of the material. If something is unclear, now is the time to clarify the information by returning to the relevant segment of the lecture while your memory is still fresh.
  • Boil it down: Another effective method is to synthesize your notes from the weekly reading assignment with your notes from the lecture into one coherent document. This can paint a clearer picture of correlations among key elements of talking points.

So, to review: Incorporating a few simple strategies can increase the effectiveness of your note-taking, making it more likely that you’ll retain knowledge.

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