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Better Note-Taking

Consider the purpose of your notes

The notes you make to understand an aspect of a course will be different from those you take to summarise a revision topic. Think about:

  • What you will use the notes for.

  • How often you will refer to them.

  • The necessary level of detail.

Then begin structuring and writing your notes.

Structure

Now you know what the notes are for you can plan a structure to make it easier when you come to browse through the notes again. For example, if you are studying Shakespeare, consider whether to order the notes by Act and Scene, thematically or by character. If your notes are part of a system, for example a set of revision notes for A-Level, try to introduce some continuity in the structure.

Date

Sounds simple, but from the beginning of a course you will have developed academically so it is useful to know from which point your notes date.

Reference

Make a note of page numbers if you are quoting so you can return to the material later. The same rule applies if you are using an example or statistic.

Subheadings and Paragraphs

These can be very effective to find a topic quickly, if used in moderation. For revision notes, try a few key facts and quotes under each subheading to make the task manageable. Do use paragraphs for structure and avoid overly long passages, which you'll never read again.

Sentences

Ensure your sentences are succinct. Aim to use your words precisely to make the point clearly. This skill will also serve you well in exams. Bullet points are helpful, though avoid overuse or they could become meaningless.

Colour

Highlighting can emphasis key facts and figures when used in moderation. Some people like colour coding; for example, in our Shakespeare notes quotations could be yellow whilst key character criticism could be blue.

Visual Aids

Try introducing diagrams, flow charts, graphs, tables or mind maps to help you think through a topic or refresh it.

Storage

There is no point writing the notes if you lose them in a paper pile immediately afterwards. Use a card index, exercise book or ring binder but either way, index so you know what you have covered and you don't repeat yourself.

If you need help organising your notes, a private tutor who specialises in Study Skills can provide valuable techniques to help with all future note taking. Make a search for a local tutor today, it will make all the difference!