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