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Take better notes: Five tips and tricks for university students

Study skills — As a student, you’ve got lots of opportunities to take notes. Personally, I take copious amounts of notes. One of the reasons: just taking them is beneficial

Most of us take notes. We do it when we read and we do it when we’re in class. I’m no exception. Here’s my advice – gleaned from 10 years of experience – for how you can do it better.

1. Think outside the block: your notes are just notes

When you have a written assignment, you typically follow the standard left to right, top to bottom, end up with a block of text, method. Your notes don’t need to be so square.

Your own way of putting it is good enough. Your handwriting is good enough.

Add a drawing. Or draw an arrow or a symbol. Write in cursive, use different colours.

Paste handouts and pictures in your notebook (either literally or digitally).

If you review your notes, you’d do well to underline important things or draw a green box around them when you do. Or change something that you’ve learned is wrong.

READ ALSO: When you take notes you forge a deeper connection to your field

2. Put a tickbox next to things you want to look into

Sometimes your instructor says things you want to follow up on. Or maybe they use a word you didn’t understand but didn’t have time to look up during class. Or they recommend a book that you want to find out more about.

When something like that happens, write down what it was you needed to do and make a tickbox in the margin next to it as a reminder that you need to get back to it.

Ask questions if need to – by all means – but when your instructor is talking at turbo speed, a box can be a good way to remember what it was you wanted to ask a question about.

3. Take notes by hand

One of the benefits of taking notes by hand is that you aren’t distracted by all the other things your computer or tablet can be used for than taking notes. A notebook can be used to take notes and not much else.

And, when you take notes by hand, it’s easier to the add the symbols, arrows and lines you need to help you understand them.

If there are situations that require you to take notes on your computer, have a notebook handy to use for the notes that can be taken by hand, or if you need to make a diagram.

A lot things require a computer. Having one less reason to use one can be relief.

4. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good

Don’t copy the instructor’s slides verbatim. You will remember more and learn better if you rewrite them in your own words.

Your own way of putting it is good enough. Your handwriting is good enough. Well-formulated, easily read notes might look good, but they are just notes after all – not the final product of your education.

The written assignments you hand in need to be well-formulated and neat. Your notes don’t need to meet the same standard.

5. Go over your notes (even though just taking them helps you learn)

You take down notes so you can go back and look them over later. But I often find that the act of taking notes itself is helpful, sometimes because it helps me to remember, other times because it forces me to think about something in a new way.

When I look over old notes, I’m sometimes embarrassed about what I didn’t know and had to write down. But that’s just a sign that I’ve learned something in the meantime.

Just taking notes helps you learn.

READ ALSO: When you take notes you forge a deeper connection to your field

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