Tag Archives: note taking

The Learning Pyramid


Oops! Turns out that this chart–while it may make sense and even hold some truth–is not based on any real research. Thanks to alert reader, Ian, who let me know.

Take a careful look at this graphic (click on it for a higher resolution view), and use the power of the pyramid to beef up your studies. You can see that 24 hours after a lecture students recall only about 5% of what they heard, but by teaching others what you are learning you will recall an average of 90% of the material! Gee. Seems like I talked about teaching to learn in a previous post.

It stinks that most college classes are mainly lecture, but you can push that recall further down the pyramid by taking effective notes and reacting to the information instead of just passively capturing it.

Don’t sell this information short; this is golden!  Think; if you normally study by reading your notes, according to this graph, you’ll recall approximately 10 percent of the material 24 hours later.  Teach that same material to someone else and you will recall nine times as much 24 hours later!  Imagine how much time and effort that will save you.

Start studying this way today.  Look here for more information on using this method.

Take Notes More Quickly


The point of taking notes is to get the information down before it is lost.  Don’t make the mistake of trying to write down every word, or even every letter, when taking notes in class.  Here are several tips to help you capture all the important information.

  1. Continually ask yourself, “Is this important enough to write down?” and “How will I be tested on this?”  You’ll find that in many classes you’ll only need to take notes on less than half the lecture, either because you already know the information, or because it’s something irrelevant to the exam.  WARNING: When in doubt, write it down.
  2. Skip non-essential words.  Instead of writing, “The bones of the human cranium include the vomer, sphenoid, zygomatic, occipital, parietal…” write “cranium bones > vomer – sphenoid – zygomatic – occipital – parietal …”
  3. Skip non-essential letters (usually vowels), abbreviate, and use symbols.  Instead of “Napoleon and Wellington were the commanders of the French and English forces at the Battle of Waterloo,” you can write “Napoleon (Fr) & Wellington (Eng) > cmmndrs @ Waterloo.”
  4. If you know [hidepost]certain key words will keep turning up in a given lecture, write an abbreviation key in the margin.  In this example you might have “N=Napoleon, Wl=Wellington, Wt=Waterloo,” in the margin changing our previous note to “N (Fr) & Wl (Eng) > cmmndrs @ Wt,”  And notice that I’m not bothering to put a period after every abbreviation.  I usually don’t dot i’s or cross t’s if I’m in a real hurry.  You might think that such extreme abbreviating would impede your understanding of your lecture notes.  Actually, it can IF you don’t review them within a few hours of taking the notes.  You must always go back and review while the lecture is still fresh in your mind.  If any of the notes are nebulous, you can clarify them during that initial review.
  5. Come up with standard abbreviations and symbols for common words…
  • and = &
  • the = T
  • although = but
  • also = +
  • is the same as = =
  • becomes = >
  • rising, higher, bigger, increase, etc. = ?
  • falling, lower, less, decrease, etc. = ?
  • to = 2
  • be = b
  • before = b4

Only use these symbols and shortcuts when you are struggling to quickly get key points down.  Then when the lecture slows down, or the prof is making an aside, you can go back and expand the symbols and abbreviations to add clarity.[/hidepost]