When taking notes on a lecture, there are two extremes that present themselves — to take exceedingly full notes, or to take almost no notes. One can err in either direction. At first, a full blow-by-blow transcript of the lecture might seem best. However, you’ll find that this isn’t necessary. In fact, you might see that this style of note-taking might end up hampering your efforts. Many lecturers will highlight your assigned reading the night before. This isn’t worth writing down twice, as you should have taken notes on your reading yourself.
If you occupy your attention with the task of copying the lecture verbatim, you do not have time to think, but become merely an automatic recording machine.
This is good news for those of you that transcribe your class time! Experienced stenographers say that they form the habit of recording so automatically that they fail utterly to comprehend the meaning of what is said. You as a student cannot afford to have your attention so distracted from the meaning of the lecture.
Therefore, you should REDUCE your classroom writing to a minimum.
Probably the chief reason why students are so eager to secure full lecture notes is that they fear to trust their memory. Such fears should be put at rest, for your mind will retain facts if you pay close attention and make logical associations during the time of impression.
Keep your mind free, then, to work upon the subject-matter of the lecture. Debate mentally with the speaker. This is called Active Listening.
Question your professor’s statements, comparing them with your own experience or with the results of your study. Ask yourself frequently, “Is that true?” The essential thing is to maintain an attitude of mental activity, and to avoid anything that will reduce this and make you passive. Do not think of yourself as a vat into which the instructor pumps knowledge. Regard yourself rather as an active force, quick to perceive and to comprehend meaning, deliberate in acceptance and firm in retention.
Active listening is the key to note-taking. This is ironic, considering that we associate note-taking with transcribing. Let your notes represent the logical progression of thought in the lecture. Strive above all else to secure the skeleton -— the framework upon which the lecture is hung. A lecture is a logical structure, and the form in which it is presented is the outline.
This outline, then, is your chief concern.
In the case of some lectures it is an easy matter. The lecturer may place the outline in your hands beforehand, may present it on the black-board, or may give it orally. Some lecturers, too, present their material in such clear-cut divisions that the outline is easily followed.
Others, however, are very difficult to follow in this regard.
In arranging an outline you will find it wise to adopt some device by which the parts will stand out prominently, and the progression of thought will be indicated with proper subordination of titles. Adopt some system at the beginning of your college course, and use it in all your notes. In other words, be consistent! You have enough to worry about in learning the material. You don’t need to spend mental energy trying to decipher your own note-taking system.
The example here may serve as a model, using first the Roman numerals, then capitals, then Arabic numerals:
Being a transcription machine does not equate to being a good notetaker. Not only will you NOT be learning effectively, but you’re pretty much wasting your time. When you use your class time more wisely, you’ll find yourself able to easily recall material come exam time. Put those last-minute cram sessions to an end!
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