Study Strategy

Make Note

The main thing to know about note-taking, says Richard Palmer, is that “All notes that are not accompanied by solid understanding are useless.”  In Brain Train: Studying for Success (London: E & FN Spon, 1996), 102, he explains, “Your notes are both part of your thinking and a reflection of it, done as part of the preparation for a piece of work or as a record and reminder of your reading and research. Class notes…are as formal as the textbooks you study, and a significant part of your course material.”

Rather than launching “into a frenzy of scribbling-long before the focus of the argument has been established,” Palmer suggests listening “for a while without simultaneously attempting to record… All but the most abjectly bad lectures and classes usually ease into their topic in a complementary fashion, announcing their main concerns in advance and repeating each one as and when it is arrived at. So take in the main topics at the beginning, and write only when you reach them later.”

See Palmer’s chapter on Creative Doodling: Note-taking for Fun and Profit to learn about techniques like “key word noting” and how to invent your own abbreviations and short cuts. And keep in mind his advice that “There is no ‘right’ way, other than what works for you. So do your notes in any way you like. If it helps you to do them in alternative green and purple biro, do them like that; if you like weaving patterns or funny shapes with them, go ahead; and if it helps and amuses you to do them in a kind of secret code that you can understand easily, that’s fine too. The more you can make taking notes a natural and pleasurable exercise, the more vigorously they will assist your study.”

Myron H. Dembo’s book Motivation and Learning Strategies for College Success: A Self-Management Approach (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000), 168, explains note-taking steps to take before, during, and after a lecture. One recommendation, for example, is to “set aside about 5 to 10 minutes per lecture shortly after class to review your notes” and “add any important information” you heard but didn’t capture and locating info “you did not understand…from the instructor, another student, or the textbook.”  Find his step-by-step note-taking technique in the chapter How can I take better notes? and a test you can take to assess your note-taking skills.

1 reply
  1. Candelyn Carpenter says:

    I hear and read everything you say about studying better what it takes to make a good research paper and time management. however everyone is saying the same ol’ thing about all this. Tell the students something different some of this stuff is falling on blinds eyes because we have read it so much and for some students it does not appear to be working. Tell us something different. Candy

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