Taking notes is usually fundamental when you’re learning something new. Thorough notes can give you a strong foundation of learning to build on and something useful to refer back to. Here’s a few tricks we’ve learnt for taking great notes.
1. Find the the right tools
The first step to taking great notes is using tools that suit you: maybe you love scribbling away with a biro and a small notebook, maybe you prefer bright colours and lots of blank paper, or maybe you want to sit with your laptop or tablet and type out your notes straight into an app.
Try out different tools, and find the ones that make note-taking not just easy, but enjoyable (that way you’re far more likely to keep going).
2. Don’t just transcribe
Whether you’re sat watching a video, or in a lecture hall, it’s easy to try and scribble down everything the speaker is saying. The result is usually smudged and nonsensical. Try and filter what the speaker is saying, listen for key points, or note down things to research further. If you really do need to take down the majority of what they’re saying, try and use abbreviations and simplify sentences, that way you can check your understanding as you go along.
Once you’ve finished writing your notes don’t abandon them – now is the time to have a proper sift through. You might highlight the most important parts, or highlight the parts to research further, or highlight key people to remember – the choice is yours. If you find yourself accidentally highlighting entire paragraphs try setting yourself a limit: if you’ve taken 5 pages of notes limit yourself to highlighting 2 lines per page, that gives you 10 key things to remember.
4. Create your own summaries
The process of turning notes into useful knowledge is a bit like distillation. You start out with raw material, you sift through it choosing the most important parts and finally you condense those parts into something usable. This last part is key, it’s here you have the chance to turn your notes into something uniquely useful to you. For instance you might summarise a set of notes in 6 notecards, writing one keyword to jog your memory about an important concept, formula or figure. But that keyword might be something that only you find amusing, or memorable, about the subject, it might even be something entirely random.
- Get organised – having great notes is useless if you can’t find them. Try and organise your notes in a system you can easily use, whether on the computer or in physical folders.
- Play to your strengths – prefer learning by listening? Record yourself reading your notes. Prefer visual learning? Get artistic and draw out concepts and illustrations. There’s no one way to take good notes, it’s about what suits you.
- Write down any questions – even if your questions are tangential you can use these to expand your knowledge, or to test yourself later.
If you have some great advice for taking notes, let us know in the comments.