Tag Archives: note taking

10 Techniques to Help You Focus! – Summarizing and Note Taking


forgot-valentineSummarizing and Note Taking

Effective summarizing requires analysis that leads to deeper understanding. Students benefit from taking notes in both linguistic and visual forms. -Northwest Regional Educational Consortium

All of us know how to summarize and take notes, but most of us only use those skills in certain situations. Ponder these examples… Continue reading 10 Techniques to Help You Focus! – Summarizing and Note Taking

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.

Are you a turnip or a hawk? Class notes, predator style.


To become an excellent turnip you simply sit around and wait for someone to dump manure on you and water you from time to time. That makes for a great vegetable, but not a great student. So why do most students sit in class and wait for knowledge to be dumped on them?

To become an excellent hawk you roam far and wide with your eyes peeled for anything that looks tasty. When you see it, you dive on it, kill it, and take it home to the kids. That’s also–figuratively speaking–how to make a great scholar.


During a lecture or while reading a text, you are cruising, eyes peeled, looking for any little tasty bit of learning you can find. Once you see it, go and get it! Own it! Kick it’s hiney and eat it for dinner. Here’s how…

  1. Pay rapt attention. Birds of prey are properly known as raptors, from the Latin word meaning “one who seizes by force.” As you sit in that lecture hall or hunker down with your Ramen and that three-inch thick, hernia-inducing textbook, actively look for facts and concepts.Some textbooks and professors will make it easy for you. They’ll put main points in bold letters, or point to a key concept and say, “this will be on the test.” This makes your job easy; pounce on the point.Other lecturers and books will camouflage important points in a thicket of words, unimportant drivel, and poorly-told anecdotes. Only the most attentive raptors will spy their prey and swoop down for the kill.
  2. Pounce on the point. That means go grab it and make it yours by putting it in your notes using some of the note taking methods I’ve mentioned. Notes are the equivalent of talons for the raptor. The prey is not yours until you’ve got a death grip on it. If it’s in your notes, then it’s yours. You can eat it later at your leisure.
  3. Rip it apart and consume it. Don’t be content to simply get the concept into your notes. You must really understand it. One great way to do that is by asking great questions and then answering them. [hidepost]Better questions force you to evaluate, predict, judge, compare and contrast, or synthesize, etc. (see Costa’s Levels of Inquiry).Example: Instead of asking the low-level question, ” What were the causes of the European conquest of the Americas?” ask the higher-level question, “What strategies could indigenous Americans have used to more effectively resist the European conquest?” Another example: Instead of asking, “What are the stages in cellular mitosis?” ask, “What stage of mitosis is most dangerous and risky for the organism? Why?”You can use these same questioning strategies to help learn vocabulary for tests like the SAT and GRE. Low-level questions such as, “What does prolix mean?” aren’t nearly as helpful as higher-level questions such as, “In what situations would the word prolix be a better word choice than verbose?”Good questions force you to work at a whole new level, and that will show on your test performance. And notice, in each of the examples above, the higher level questions can’t be answered unless you know the answers to the lower level questions.Higher level questions are also great ones to ask in class. Most profs (but not all) like well thought out questions. BONUS: If the prof is going too fast, a good question will slow them down so you can catch up. [/hidepost]

Actively go and pursue knowledge by paying careful attention, capturing concepts in your notes, and then processing the knowledge with good questions. Don’t settle for being a vegetable waiting for the next load of manure. Be a hawk! Go own that knowledge!

Note Taking Skills; Use a Key


napoleon-imperial-guardDon’t waste time rewriting the same long names and words in your notes. Create a key with your abbreviations for the particular set of notes your taking. I usually put this key on the first page of notes in the upper right. I might start off with several key terms that I know will crop up, but I usually add others as the class progresses.


N – Napoleon

W – Wellington

Br – British

Fr – French

Wl – Waterloo

Now, instead of Continue reading Note Taking Skills; Use a Key

Re-reading Your Notes Wastes Time!


Did you know that reading over your notes repeatedly is one of the LEAST effective ways to study?  Psychology research has demonstrated repeatedly that you remember much more effectively when you work with information rather than just reviewing information.

Solution: Teach your study materials to a partner.  Look briefly at a main heading in the notes, then try to teach the rest of that section (from memory) to your friend.  Go slowly.  Explain carefully.  Devise illustrations and examples to help make your point.  This method is much more effective than just rereading your notes!

The Best Study Schedule (updated)


(this is an updated version of a post from January 2008)

I’ve posted quite a bit on how and when to study in order to maximize recall, but putting it all together may be a bit daunting.  Follow this step-by-step guide and you’ll be well on your way to the top of the class!  These may seem deceptively simple, but every one of these steps is supported by research.  Start following these steps NOW to boost your grades and recall.

Best Study Schedule

  1. Study every day rather than studying for long periods on one or two days a week
  2. As far as it is possible, establish a regular daily study schedule
  3. Study early in the day as much as possible.  Most (but certainly not all) brains function better earlier in the day.
  4. Study between classes during time that would normally be wasted
  5. Study in short sessions, from twenty to forty-five minutes each
  6. Take frequent breaks from two to fifteen minutes long between each session and do something completely unrelated
  7. Review at the beginning an end of each study session
  8. Study new material within fifteen minutes of learning it, and again within twelve hours.  Aim for 100% mastery
  9. Study the cumulative class notes at least once per week
  10. Don’t study at night or on the weekends when it can be avoided.  Rest is just as important as study!  Exception: A brief review right before bed can cement information in.  For example, if I spent two hours going over new notes during the day, I might take ten minutes right before I close my eyes to mentally rehearse the material.

The Ice Tea Habit


What could be more normal than drinking a tall glass of ice tea on a hot day?  Ice tea was sold for the first time on a hot day in 1904, at the World’s Fair.  Tea concessionaire Richard Blechynden was trying to boost sagging sales, and his new-fangled iced tea was a hit with thirsty fair-goers.

Up until that time, hot was the only way most people drank their tea.  Now, in the U.S. at least, cold tea is the norm for much of the year.

Similarly, learning new habits can seem awkward at first.  They seem unnatural.  After awhile, though, they become so normal you can’t imagine doing without them.

Keep that in mind as you work on forming new academic habits, like reviewing your notes as you walk across campus.  Persist and the ungainly new habit will become as natural as drinking a tall glass of ice tea on a hot day.

Note Taking: Top Five Ways College Students Work Too Hard (Part 2)


Note Taking: Enough is Enough

Part 1 was about how cramming actually costs you waaaay more than you gain. Excellent study skills include consistent studying, rather than cramming during crunch time. In this post we’ll discuss another way in which we shoot ourselves in the foot by taking notes on the wrong stuff and by taking too many notes. Note taking is something you will spend a LOT of time doing over the course of your educational career, so make sure you’re doing it the right way!

Question: why are DVRs, such as TiVo, so popular? Answer: it lets you get rid off all the stuff you don’t care about, like the commercials, and focus on the stuff you do care about, like Better Off Ted. And what does this have to do with study skills? Good notes are like TiVo; they allow you to avoid the useless schlock that won’t actually be tested and concentrate on those golden knowledge nuggets that will.

Did you know that studies on note taking (yes, people concerned with study skills actually do research on note taking) show that writing down every word the prof says is only slightly more effective for recall than not taking notes at all? Why? ‘Cuz you aren’t processing the information. You spend all your time just trying to get it all down before your hand cramps up. Even if you do manage to get most of it down, you’re just going to have to go back and pick the M&Ms out of the party mix, so to speak, at a later date. Why don’t we just start taking notes on the testable tidbits?

There are a couple of reasons. First, we feel like we’re supposed to be taking notes on everything. Somewhere some time someone convinced us that novel-length notes are good notes. Not true! Good note taking is discerning. Every letter has to prove it’s worthiness. Good note taking is snooty. Good notes are notes that say, “prove you’re good enough, and I might write you down.” Good notes don’t let in the hoi polloi, the riff-raff, or the rabble. Good notes are snobby; they have standards. Quality over quantity, people.

So next time you’re in class and the girl in front of you is scribbling madly to get down “electrolytes have been shown to prevent muscular cramping. That is why athletes often drink sports drinks containing electrolytes, such as Gatorade,” you can write, “electrolytes prvnt cramps (ex. Gatorade),” and watch smugly as her hand seizes up like a baby sucking lemons. You might offer her some Gatorade at this point.

Another reason students take too many notes is because they aren’t sure what’s important–better safe than sorry. I’m all for erring on the side of caution, but let’s be realistic. It’s not like you intend to memorize everything you write down. You plan on going back later and deciding what to actually study for the test. Good note takers just make that decision before they decide to write it down. Some students actually write down stuff they already know. What’s the point of that? Notes are there to help you learn stuff you don’t know.

Bottomline? Too many notes waste time and effort. Make the decisions about what you will actually need to study while you listen to the lecture and while you read taking just enough notes to help you recall it accurately later as you study. Anything else is wasted effort. These are study skills, however. Skills must be developed, and that means practice. Practice study skills, such as taking notes that are snooty yet sufficient. You will soon reach the heady ranks of super-mega-student overlord, and professors will kneel before you!

For more posts on note taking, including detailed how-to’s, click here. Please click on one of the social links. Heck; click’em all!

Next up on The Top Five Ways College Students Work Too Hard, reading too much.


Top Five Ways College Students Work Too Hard

  1. Cramming
  2. Taking too many notes on the wrong stuff
  3. Reading more than you need to
  4. Studying the wrong way
  5. Not taking care of your brain
© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.