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How to Take Notes

How do I take notes??

Lots of students are confused about note-taking. Many freshmen start college unsure as to the best way, and never develop good habits. There are several effective note-taking methods out there - finding a good fit for you and the material you're hearing is the key. Here are a few note-taking methods you might find helpful:

The Cornell Method

The Cornell method provides a systematic format for condensing and organizing notes without laborious recopying. After writing the notes in the main space, use the left-hand space to label each idea and detail with a key word or "cue."

Method - Rule your paper with a 2 - inch margin on the left leaving a six-inch area on the right in which to make notes. During class, take down information in the six-inch area. When the instructor moves to a new point, skip a few lines. After class, complete phrases and sentences as much as possible. For every significant bit of information, write a cue in the left margin. To review, cover your notes with a card, leaving the cues exposed. Say the cue out loud, then say as much as you can of the material underneath the card. When you have said as much as you can, move the card and see if what you said matches what is written. If you can say it, you know it.

Advantages - Organized and systematic for recording and reviewing notes. Easy format for pulling out major concept and ideas. Simple and efficient. Saves time and effort. "Do-it-right-in-the-first-place" system.

Disadvantages - None

When to Use - In any lecture situation.

What The Cornell Method Looks Like:

Recall Column--Use this area of your page (about 2.5 inches) to reduce ideas and facts to concise jottings of main ideas to jog your memory for reciting. Note-Taking Column--Use this area (about 6 inches) to record the lecture as fully and a meaningfully as possible
Cornell Method This tutorial demonstrates the Cornell Method of taking classroom notes.  It is recommended by experts from the Learning Center at Cornell University.
Line drawn down paper Draw a line down your note page about 2.5 inches from the left side.  On the right-hand side of the line simply record your classroom notes as you usually do.  Be sure to abbreviate, include illustrations when possible,  and write legibly.
After the lecture After the lecture, read your notes over, filling in the materials that you missed, making your writing legible and underlining any important materials.
Use the Recall Column and Key Phrases The Recall Column will help you  when you study for your tests.  Jot down any important words or key phrases in the Recall Column.  This activity forces you to rethink and summarize your notes.  The key words should stick in your mind.
Five R's The Five R's will help you take better notes based on the Cornell Method.

Record

1.  Record any information given during the lecture that you believe will be important.

Reduce

2.  When you reduce the information you are summarizing and listing key words/phrases in the Recall Column.

Recite

3.  Cover the notes you took for your class.  Test yourself on the words in the recall section.  This is what it means to recite.

Reflect

4.  Next, reflect on the information that you received during the lecture.  Determine how your ideas fit in with the information you took during the lecture.

Review

5.  If you review you notes you will remember a great deal more when you take your exams.

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The Outlining Method

Dash or indented outlining is usually best except for some science classes such as physics or math.

  1. The information which is most general begins at the left with each more specific group of facts indented with spaces to the right.
  2. The relationship between the different parts is carried out through indenting.
  3. No numbers, letters, or Roman numerals are needed unless preferred

Method - Listen and then write in points in an organized pattern based on space indention. Place major points farthest to the left. Indent each more specific point to the right. Levels of importance will be indicated by distance away from the major point. Indention can be as simple as or as complex as labeling the indentations with Roman numerals or decimals. Markings are not necessary as space relationships will indicate the major/minor points.

Advantages - Well-organized system if done right that outlines records content as well as relationships. It also reduces editing and is easy to review by turning main points into questions.

Disadvantages - Requires more thought in class for accurate organization. This system may not show relationships by sequence when needed. It doesn't lend to diversity of a review attach for maximum learning and question application. This system cannot be used if the lecture is too fast.

When to Use - The outline format can be used if the lecture is presented in outline organization. This may be either deductive (regular outline) or inductive (reverse outline where minor points start building to a major point). Use this format when there is enough time in the lecture to think about and make organization decisions when they are needed. This format can be most effective when your note-taking skills are super sharp and you can handle the outlining regardless of the note-taking situation.

What the Outlining Method Looks Like:

Starting pts. for an economic system

  1. All people act selfishly (economically)
    -- Two broad types of markets:
    1. Product markets (output) - market activity selfish
      Seller - firms such as corporations; maximize profits
      Consumers - buyers; maximize utility
    2. Factor market (input)
      Sellers - labororers; workers; maximize wages; minimize effort
      Buyers - firms; maximize profits
  2. All markets structural - great #'s of buyers & sellers; Market is competitive - no single buyer or seller influences the outcome.

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The Mapping Method

Mapping is a method that uses comprehension/concentration skills and evolves in a notetaking form which relates each fact or idea to every other fact or idea. Mapping is a graphic representation of the content of a lecture. It is a method that maximizes active participation, affords immediate knowledge as to its understanding, and emphasizes critical thinking.

Advantages - This format helps you to visually track your lecture regardless of conditions. Little thinking is needed and relationships can easily be seen. It is also easy to edit your notes by adding numbers, marks, and color coding. Review will call for you to restructure thought processes which will force you to check understanding. Review by covering lines for memory drill and relationships. Main points can be written on flash or note cards and pieced together into a table or larger structure at a later date.

Disadvantages - You may not hear changes in content from major points to facts.

When to Use - Use when the lecture content is heavy and well-organized. May also be used effectively when you have a guest lecturer and have no idea how the lecture is going to be presented.

What the Mapping Method Looks Like:

Download this PDF document to see an example of the Mapping Method.

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The Charting Method

If the lecture format is distinct (such as chronological), you may set up your paper by drawing columns and labeling appropriate headings in a table.

Method - Determine the categories to be covered in the lecture. Set up your paper in advance by columns headed by these categories. As you listen to the lecture, record information (words, phrases, main ideas, etc.) into the appropriate category.

Advantages - Helps you track conversation and dialogues where you would normally be confused and lose out on relevant content. Reduces amount of writing necessary. Provides easy review mechanism for both memorization of facts and study of comparisons and relationships.

Disadvantages - few disadvantages except learning how to use the system and locating the appropriate categories. You must be able to understand what's happening in the lecture

When to Use - Test will focus on both facts and relationships. Content is heavy and presented fast. You want to reduce the amount of time you spend editing and reviewing at test time. You want to get an overview of the whole course on one big paper sequence.

What the Charting Method Looks Like:

Note Taking Tips

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The Sentence Method

Method - Write every new thought, fact or topic on a separate line, numbering as you progress.

Advantages - Slightly more organized than the paragraph. Gets more or all of the information. Thinking to tract content is still limited.

Disadvantages - Can't determine major/minor points from the numbered sequence. Difficult to edit without having to rewrite by clustering points which are related. Difficult to review unless editing cleans up relationship.

When to Use - Use when the lecture is somewhat organized, but heavy with content which comes fast. You can hear the different points, but you don't know how they fit together. The instructor tends to present in point fashion, but not in grouping such as "three related points."

What the Sentence Method Looks Like:

(Example 1)

Lecture:

A revolution is any occurrence that affects other aspects of life, such as economic life, social life, and so forth. Therefore revolutions cause change. (See page 29 to 30 in your text about this.)

Sample Notes:

Revolution - occurrence that affects other aspects of life: e.g., econ., socl., etc. C.f. text, pp. 29-30

(Example 2)

Melville did not try to represent life as it really was. The language of Ahab, Starbuck, and Ishmael, for instance, was not that of real life.

Sample Notes:

Mel didn't repr. life as was; e.g., lang. of Ahab, etc. not of real life.

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