Notetaking, Finding a Method that Works

I have tried to improve my notetaking since I started my graduate program. Really, I’ve worked on improving this since high school, but I never have managed to find a real trick that has worked for me.

I always take too many notes. In high school, everyone could count on me to take down every single word from the overhead projector, verbatim. Every time someone missed class, they always asked me for my notes first because they knew I would have every single word.

If someone didn’t ask though, most of the time, I would never even look at those notes again. Still, I had convinced myself that as soon as I didn’t write something down, I would need it.

I’m not just talking about writing the facts either, I mean using proper grammar and complete sentences. This style of notetaking just does not work for me at all it turns out, but writing notes helps solidify concepts in my mind so I know that I need to take at least some.

Since beginning my new program, I have tried to find a balance between taking too many notes and abandoning notetaking all together. It took me too long to read the book chapters and articles for each unit, and I don’t have that much time to spare and dedicate to reading or notetaking.

Seriously, I found myself spending hours to read one chapter, and I didn’t retain nearly as much as I had hoped. However, I have found myself using my notes quite often in my new classes. Even though I have used them regularly, I still have too many notes on irrelevant concepts and miniscule details to efficiently find what I need.

So, I have adopted a new mantra: fewer, better notes. I feel like I hear these words run through my mind every time I sit down to start working on schoolwork.

To help me accomplish fewer, better notes, at the beginning of each week I have started previewing the objectives, assignments, and questions for the week to understand the topics goals and hone in on the valuable and applicable information for each unit.

That has helped me focus my reading into pulling out the most relevant information which, in turn, has helped me take notes that relate more directly to the main unit objectives.

From there, I started to assess how much I really used the notes. I found that when I took better notes, I started to retain more of the information. I dialed into the information I wrote down and that helped me actively remember it. However, I still reference my notes when I need specific terms, wording, or citations so they still do come in handy.

I also learned to stop writing my notes word for word. Instead, I try to summarize the key points in my own words so I can to commit them to memory. Doing this forces me to internalize what I read and write using coherent thoughts. It works as a check and balance system for gauging my comprehension too.

Lastly, I use headings to organize my notes so I can easily find what I need and track through them. It helps me if I need to reference them, and it also creates a guide if I need to go back and reference a specific spot in the book or article.

Curbing my notetaking habit has been rough, but in the beginning, I would set a page limit that I didn’t want to go over and try to limit my notes to that number of pages. For example, two pages per chapter.

After I did this for a few chapters, I loved how easily I could find what I wanted instead of combing back through ten pages or exactly what the book had said.

I know that in the future I need to continue streamlining my notetaking, and I have had to work hard at taking fewer, better notes, but I think it has payed off for me already!