The best way to be prepared to take notes is to keep up with the reading for the topic before it is covered in class. Formulate questions, and actively listen or read the lecture.

A recommended strategy for taking notes is the Cornell method. The notebook paper is divided into a main ideas column about two inches wide on the left, and a details column on the right. The lower part of the paper is sectioned off horizontally, leaving about a two inch space for reflecting and summarizing. When reading or listening to lecture, write in the details column. Later, like in the game, "Jeopardy", you review your notes and formulate a question that the notes on the right would answer. Write this question in the left hand column. Sometimes a keyword or phrase with important names and vocabulary words will be more fitting to record in the main ideas column.

Cornell 6-R Notetaking Method

The Cornell 6-R Notetaking method breaks the process down into components, but it is really an ongoing, dynamic process. The value of taking notes this way is that it organizes information and prepares you for tests from the very beginning, and saves time.

Write down important facts, names, dates, concepts, theories, procedures and other information in the column on the right.
Summarize the main ideas with key words or questions and write these in the column on the left.
Cover the details section, and ask yourself the question in the main idea column, or formulate a question based upon the concept phrases in the left column. How well could you remember what you wrote down? Keep track of what you need to learn.
Reflect upon the ideas in the notes, including how they are applied, the implications of conclusions or data, and the meaning of examples or cases discussed. Search for connections between ideas. You give meaning to what you are learning by reflecting upon it. Record your thoughts, observations, questions and unresolved issues in the lower section of the page for the summary.
Review your notes again immediately after taking them. If the notes are from lecture, fill in any blanks, clarify any missing or partial information. Recite and reflect again to test yourself. Plan spaced time for review of your notes each week.
Summarize what you have gone over in your notes again. Write a summary of each page of notes in the lower section of the page. This will help the information to be stored in long-term memory.

Cue Words
Professors will use cue words that tell you what to expect.
-- "This is important", "you need to know", "to emphasize" highlight important information
-- "The topic is", "first of all…then…next", "in conclusion" cue listeners or readers to a sequence.
-- Writing words on the overhead or board, speaking in a different tone or speed, changing body posture are cues to indicate something of importance should be noted. Online written lectures lack non-verbal cues so it is especially important to pay close attention to the verbal cues of emphasis and organization in the readings.

Devise your own abbreviation codes tailored to each discipline.
Generic examples
w/ = with, ind. = individual, & = and, ? = question,
info. = information, e.g. = for example, gov’t. = government,
i.e. = such as, ref = reference, diff. = difference.

Concept Maps

Another method of notetaking which appeals to global, visual learners, those who like to see "the whole picture" and how the parts relate, is concept mapping. The main idea is recorded a few inches below the top of the page in a circle. As the author or speaker explains the main idea with examples, facts, names, or applications, draw an arrow to another circle in which you write the supporting detail. When a new main idea is introduced, start a new concept map, with that idea at the center, and continue as you did before, adding arrows to circles containing explanatory information.

Two of the advantages to concept mapping are that you can return to a concept map and continue building it, if the speaker or author returns to an idea introduced earlier. Also, concept mapping makes it very easy for students who have good visual memories to store information. Visual learners tend to visualize where the information was on the page in their notes during tests to help their recall.

The following is an example of a concept map based upon a section of a speech given by the physicist Fritjof Capra at the Peace Resource Center of Santa Barbara.


Graphic Organizers for Notetaking

Authors will follow text style patterns that match their purposes. For example, authors use the matrix diagram when comparing and/or contrasting items along certain parameters. Sequential text structures often show a procedure taking place over time, and include timelines and flow charts. Problem-solution text structures introduce a problem, and illustrate alternative solutions that are evaluated. Cause-effect text structures show the causes leading up to an event, state of being or condition, and the effects of those causes. Description text structures list many attributes to paint a picture in the reader’s mind of the object, scene or situation being discussed. Argumentation text structures show reasons, or premises, that are presented as evidence toward accepting a conclusion.

It is possible to take notes when reading texts which have definite structures using graphic organizers. They make overt or clearly visible the underlying structure of the text. They are like the skeletal system in the human body.

A System for Your Notebook

As you receive and produce more and more papers, handouts, articles and notes, be sure you decide on a personalized method of organizing them. They are of no use if they can’t be found. These methods keep you organized:

Date each set of notes, with instructor’s name, course title, topic of the day and fill in all the significant details you need to remember before storing them chronologically in your notebook.

Keep separate sections of your notebook dedicated only to individual classes.

Have a pocket for papers that have no holes punched. If you wish to include them consecutively in your class notes, use a three-hole punch and file away as soon as possible after class.

Use color-coding to organize your notes and notebook. Some students like to take notes or highlight notes with different colored pens. Each color can represent a different thing, such as red for main ideas, blue for theories and ideas to know, yellow for supporting ideas, green for peoples’ names, and so on. Using different colored dividers and paper colors helps some people stay organized. The brain responds to the color and categorizes according to your selected design.

It is equally important to organize online notes in files by saving them in relevant, clearly-labeled folders. Experience shows us that we have to organize our computer files logically to be able to find them upon demand. For security, it's important to remember to systematically make back-ups of files stored on our harddrives.

When taking notes on the computer, you can use the copy and paste function, as well as the highlighting function. Kurzweil provides a nice notetaking option when reading on the computer; you can print your notes out without printing the whole article that you are reading.

Source: Gerry Lewin, Gyrus Learning Skills

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