Some research has shown that when students read new information, they tend to forget almost 40% of it within 24 hours. For students studying their coursework and preparing for exams, this is bad news and as a result, it is common practice to revise by reading and re-reading. If they take notes effectively, however, they can retain and access nearly 100% of the information they study.
The best way to take notes uses active, rather than passive, learning. Active learning puts the responsibility for learning on the learner. For learning to be effective, students need to be doing things with the material they are engaging with. This involves reading, writing, discussing, thinking of everyday applications of facts and solving problems.
Note-taking is most effective when notes are well organised and transformed in some way from the the original text studied. This takes effort and interactivity with the information, involving the use of original notes a number of times – so that memory is built up progressively
Four stages to effective note taking can take place:
1. Taking brief notes from the original source
2. Note making
3. Interacting with notes
In taking brief notes:
• Students prepare a page to take notes the same way each time. A learning objective should be identified at this time.
• Make two columns, with the first column taking up about a third of the page. The area on the left is for questions and notes that may be added later when students reflect on their notes. On the right, the student may take notes from the source of information. Notes should be made in their own words, not just copied. Develop a consistent set of abbreviations and symbols to save time, and write phrases, not sentences. Bullet points are good for separating different points made.
• Leave spaces and lines between main ideas for revisiting later and for adding information.
• Use highlighters and colour to indicate key ideas, changes in concepts or links between information.
In note making:
• Students revise their notes, writing questions in the left-hand column near where the answer is contained on the right-hand side
• Connect important material in the notes using colour or symbols
• Students write a summary exploring the questions and answers from the left margin. Use the questions as study prompts before a test.
• Students should examine the content of notes by focusing on one area of difficulty they are experiencing in their learning
• Students should also reflect over a complete unit regularly leading up to exams and tests.
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