Taking Notes in Class
- In high school, you probably received pre-digested note sheets that told you what was going to be on the test, so you didn't have to listen or to read the book. Nobody gives those out in college.
- You stayed up until 2 AM playing video games. Or perhaps you had to go to the weight room at 6 AM. Or both. Taking notes helps you stay awake.
- Surprisingly enough, teachers actually do say things in class that are important, but are not in the book. Don't rely on your memory. Writing things down will help you remember.
People who are messing with a phone in class are not taking notes. The cell phone format will not allow you to do that very well.
- Note-taking gets a student more involved in the classroom experience.
- Cell phone use takes the student out of the classroom and allows him/her to forget about the whole thing.
I do not normally take cell phones away from phone addicts because they will be getting a "D" anyhow due to being totally tuned out of the college experience.
- Paper: Best is a spiral notebook for each class. This will help you stay organized. Loose sheets are OK too, but they tend to get lost in your backpack.
- Writing instrument: A good ballpoint pen or pencil. Bring two because one will inevitably fail. Rollerball pens are quite good too.
- Computer? Probably not your best choice. They are distracting and they tempt you to try to record the lecture verbatim. That's not your best choice if you want to learn what the professor is teaching.
People who show up to class empty-handed assume that the only reason to be here is to somehow accumulate points. They assume that they will get a college degree if they simply sit in a chair for a certain number of hours.
Don't worry about them. They will be on academic probation at the end of their first semester and out of here after their second semester.
What you are trying to do
You take notes for several basic purposes:
- Housekeeping: Assignment changes, class cancellations, and the like. You absolutely need to know these things.
- Information that is not in the reading: Your instructor is an expert in the field. If you want to learn the latest and best material, you listen to the lecture.
- How it all fits together: You might be overwhelmed by a lot of information that seems random. A good lecture (plus answers to good student questions) can show you the shape of all this information.
This is a quick YouTube Video overview of note-taking. If you have never taken notes in class and you would like more help, stop by the Center for Academic Support and ask about the Freshman Success Seminar.
Some final observations
- You take notes for several purposes. Some teachers want you to understand the general shape of the topic; others will ask you to give back exact information on a test. You adapt your note-taking strategies to your need.
- Even if you never have to give back classroom material on a test, the physical act of writing things down will help you to internalize them because you are engaging a part of your brain that isn't working when you are passively listening.
- The best note-taking strategy is the one that stays out of your way and enables you to learn things. This is why programs such as Evernote that require you to learn how to use them (and, by the way, to pay a fee) might not be your best first choice. When you get into the complexities of law school or nursing school, perhaps you will need something like this, but for first-semester freshmen, a notebook and a pen are probably enough.