Noteworthy note-taking advice
Congratulations on your admission to your respective colleges! This means that a college has acknowledged both your academic and personal achievements and believes that you have what it takes to go to their school. However many incoming freshmen find themselves struggling to adapt to the new college pacing and methodology. The high school honors student’s first C in a college course exam can be a cruel and unwelcomed wake-up call. They quickly realize college is a completely different institution than their old high school.
Do not fret as you are not alone. Although demotivating, a freshman’s first low scoring exam is nothing to be ashamed of. Take it with a grain of salt learn from your mistakes. Your notes, a college student’s main weapon when preparing to defeat a midterm, probably aren’t suitable for college exams. The key to passing your college exams is by taking useful and effective notes.
The two types of notetakers
College lectures tend to cram a lot of information into a short duration of class time which forces students to take notes at a very fast rate. There are typically two types of note takers in college; those who choose to handwrite their notes and those who type their notes on their laptop. Keyboarding away during lecture can definitely seem more appealing to the incoming college freshman compared to writing out their notes by hand. After all, millennials practically grew up with electronic keyboards in their hands. Who wouldn’t find the idea of being able to type their notes appealing? Not only does keyboarding allow you to note down everything the professor is presenting, but it also saves you a hand cramp that is inevitable with pen and paper. But do not be tempted to type out your notes just to save your hand the from a mild cramp. Handwriting your notes has been proven to be the most beneficial out of the two note taking styles in terms of information processing and overall performance in the class (Alfonso, 2015).
Slow and steady wins the race
Even technology cannot beat the timeless pen and paper duo when it comes to taking effective notes that will help you in the long run. A common concern that students have is that they will not be able to write down everything on the lecture slide but can do so if they type their notes. However, the slow and steady pace of writing is what makes handwritten notes more helpful than typing. Being able to copy down everything that the professor presents on doesn’t necessarily make a person’s notes more effective to study with. Not only is it unrealistic for you to memorize every single detail that the professor presents on, but it is also a waste of time as you will not be tested on everything. The whole point of taking notes is to document only the important points so you have something to reference while studying for your exams. If your notes are filled with not as important information, you might have a hard time sorting through your notes to find the important information.
The slower pace of writing your notes eliminates the urge to copy down everything the professor presents on and allows your brain to process information better than compared to when you type your notes (Alfonso, 2015). Some pieces of information will be more relevant than others, therefore, there is a high chance that the more important concepts will take up a majority of the exam. By actively sorting out what information is relevant and irrelevant while taking your notes, you will be creating a useful study guide and be better prepared for future exams.
There are several published studies that state the benefit of handwriting slowed note taking speed such as the study conducted by Mueller and Oppenheimer in 2014. The study consisted of two note taking groups, keyboarders and handwritten, who were assigned to take notes on an hour and a half presentation. At the end of the presentation, both groups were tested in their critical thinking and memory recollection abilities based on the information they took notes on. (Mueller & Oppenheimer 2014). While the memory recollection results from the two test groups were relatively similar, the group that wrote their notes by hand did much better when it came to questions that required critical thinking (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014).
Put your mind into it
Copying down the information that your professor presents in class is only half the battle. An important aspect of taking effective notes is being present and engaged as the notes are being taken. Because typing allows students to get more words in an allotted period of time, students who type their notes tend to produce notes filled with “mindless transcriptions” (Alfonso, 2015). This means that students who type their notes are less likely to dedicate 100% of their attention to the material being presented. If students are typing their notes and not paying attention to the context of the information, then they will have a hard time recalling the information when they have to reread their notes to study. Students who handwrite their notes must carefully choose what to include in their notes since they will not be able to write all the information they need if they copy the lecture slides verbatim. The act of sorting out what information should be written down or not forces the student to be actively engaged during the note-taking process. By being actively engaged, students will learn the material in a “deeper and more interconnected way with existing knowledge” and be able to easily recall the information when they are being assessed (Alfonso, 2015).
But wait there’s more
Simply writing your notes out by hand is not going to guarantee you the grade that you want in your college course. Taking your notes by hand does not mean you are being actively engaged with the material. It is possible that you could be creating the same “mindless transcriptions” that keyboarding notes have (Alfonso, 2015). The key to effective notes that will help you ace the exam is short-handed, handwritten notes. There are two ways to organize handwritten notes; linear and nonlinear. Linear notes are the traditional way of taking notes, with complete sentences and multiple pages. Non-linear notes, on the other hand, are short and to the point. Instead of writing every detail around, nonlinear note takers only take note on the main points.
Example of linear notes on the left (Source: https://www.mindmeister.com/blog/effective-note-taking/ )
Example of nonlinear notes on the right (Source: http://katemats.com/guide-to-note-taking/)
I personally recommend this route of handwritten notes as you should focus your time and energy on the information you will actually be tested on. But don’t just take my word on it.
There are also studies, such as Makany, Kemp, & Dror (2009), that also recommend taking nonlinear notes. Makany, Kemp, & Dror (2009) uses the results from their study to argue that nonlinear handwritten notes are the most effective way to understand and retain information in the long run. In this study, participants were split into two groups, each group assigned to take either linear or nonlinear notes. They were then given a variety of different questions in order for researchers to evaluate the correlation between note style and learning efficiency. The results showed that nonlinear “note takers performed on average 20% better than the linear control group in tasks measuring comprehension and metacognitive skills” (Makany, Kemp, & Dror,2009). The reason why the nonlinear note takers performed better on average in this study is because of the underlying thought process behind it. Instead of writing out full sentences, create mental connections while the professor is presenting the material and only write down the important connections. This process allows you to better absorb the material as it is being presented in lecture, which saves you a lot of time in the future when exam week comes around.
Like getting rid of old habits, readjusting how you take your notes will help you better adjust and succeed during your time in college. Remember that you aren’t just mindlessly copying down everything your professor is saying, but actually absorbing and making sense of the information right then and there during lecture. So when your exams are close at hand and it’s time to crack open your notebooks, you’ll have a much easier time remembering the information. Work hard on your notes and you’ll thank yourself in the future.
Boch, F. & Piolat, A. (2005). Note taking and learning: a summary of research. The WAC Journal. 29(6), 101-109. Retrieved from https://wac.colostate.edu/journal/vol16/boch.pdf
Makany, T., Kemp, J., & Dror, I. E. (2009). Optimising the use of note-taking as an external cognitive aid for increasing learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(4), 619-635. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/61878905?accountid=14505
Mueller, P.A., & Oppenheimer D.M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the Keyboard: advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological sciences. Retrived from https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/sites.udel.edu/dist/6/132/files/2010/11/Psychological-Science-2014-Mueller-0956797614524581-1u0h0yu.pdf
Pérez Alonso, M (2015). Metacognition and Sensorimotor Components Underlying the Process of Handwriting and Keyboarding and Their Impact on Learning. An Analysis from the Perspective of Embodied Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042815005078?via%3Dihub
South College, (2015). Handwritten Vs. Typed Notes: Which Is Best For You. Retrieved from https://www.south.edu/blog/handwritten-vs-typed-notes-which-is-best-for-you/