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Become an Expert at Scanning Texts and Other Note taking Strategies

Many students do not understand the importance of taking notes. They have the textbook and they attend class on a regular basis; shouldn’t that be enough? No, it is not. Professors don’t always require their students to know everything from a chapter, and they frequently instruct on information that cannot be found in the textbook. By taking notes, a student is actively engaged in the lecture when they attend class. Without taking notes, the only sense they are using is their ears, leaving the eyes and hands to become distracted with other tasks.

CUNY Hunter on note taking formats and methods

Five Methods of Note Taking – this one includes Mapping (PDF)

Learning Strategies Database from Muskingum U – This one includes FORM and REAP

Organization Strategies (Microsoft Word document)

Two Column Note Taking

Two Column Note Taking Procedure

There are several major, conventional styles of organized note taking. The Cornell Method is recommended for beginners. With this strategy, the writer divides each sheet of paper into three parts. The first, the recall column, takes up only about two inches of the left side of the paper. The second, the summary, is just a small section at the bottom of the sheet. Finally, the notes column comprises the rest of the space – perhaps about two-thirds of the sheet. Display these sections by drawing lines, vertically to separate recall from notes, and horizontally to separate the summary. The Two Column Method is very similar to the Cornell Method, but it does not include a summary section. In this method, the leftmost third of a sheet is used for key words while the rest of the page describes and defines those key words. 

The REAP Method is somewhat similar to the aforementioned two, but in many ways it is very different. This method, which stands for Relating, Extending, Actualizing and Profiting, requires the use of both the left and right sheets of paper when a notebook lays open on a desk. General notes are taken on the right page with short sentences and lines skipped between major ideas. The leftmost sheet is divided in half with two columns: one for “triggers” and the other for “REAP.” The triggers column should be used for words or even sketches that will “trigger” the main ideas for the scholar. The REAP column is for outside information. How does the material relate to the note taker’s personal life? How does the information extend into the outside world? How could the information be actualized later in life? How is this information profitable to society in the context of its field? The four questions that should be taken into account thus define the REAP strategy. 

 The Outline Method is the one that teachers seem to support the most. Each individual should design his or her own template. The most common features Roman Numerals preceding the general topic or idea, capital letters summarizing its main points, numbers clarifying those main points and finally lower case letters with specifics. Other note takers prefer to use a system of bullets and other symbols, both filled in and hollowed out, to denote their subsections. 

The FORM Strategy is not really for note takers but rather it is an outline provided by an instructor before a class. This outline summarizes what will be discussed during the particular day’s session and helps students determine what information is most important. The Mapping Method serves as a “graphic representation of a concept.” In this method, a basic idea is boxed in or circled, and then a series of key factors or examples are written around the edges with a line connecting them to the concept. The Mapping Method is sometimes also called Webbing.

There is also a Concept Card Strategy that does not use full sheets of paper but rather 3 x 5 or 5 x 7 index cards. In this strategy, a main idea is written on one side of the card (usually the lineless side) and a definition or summary is written on the other side. This method is popular among many scholars because the cards are easy to store and studying them can sometimes be treated like a game. It is recommended that students use another note taking method, but then copy the information to index cards if they feel the method will help their retention.

There are some general ideas to keep in mind when note taking. Actually going to class is important, but in doing so, one should be ready to learn. Perhaps fuel the brain with a snack and maybe even a small puzzle. Arriving at class, one should sit in the front of the room to minimize distraction between the student and the center of information. If the instructor writes something for you to see, it is probably because he or she wants to make sure you write it down. Using a variety of ink colors or highlighters helps to categorize and it also helps with retention because the notes will be interesting to look at. Rewrite your notes. Doing so makes the information more memorable and understandable when it is recalled or studied, especially in classes where notes need to be jotted extremely quickly. The use of symbols and abbreviations are highly encouraged because they are written more quickly and they save space, but they need to be selected carefully. Do not use an abbreviation that may not be understood during review. Also, be consistent and use the same abbreviation every time.

Professor Walter Pauk of Cornell has developed the “Five Rs of Note Taking.” They include recording, reducing, reciting, reflecting and reviewing. Recording is simply copying down the main facts. Reducing is selecting which information is most important and copying it down to a single sheet. Some students like to bring these sheets to the exam and study off of it right up until the exam is dispersed. Reciting involves reading over the information that is written down, learning and understanding it. Reflecting takes reciting one step further and requires students to ponder the possibilities of each concept. How can it be utilized in the real world? Sometimes instructors phrase questions in ways that consider real world situations. Reflecting will prepare the student. Finally reviewing is somewhat of a combination between reducing and reciting. A student must always return to their notes and decide what they still need to master.

5 Tips for Effective Digital Note Taking

Abbreviations and Note Taking

Academic Tips

Advice from Dartmouth

Checklist (PDF)

Effective Note Taking Strategies from Stanford

The Five Rs of Note Taking

Good Listening in Class

The Importance of Taking Notes

Lecture Note Taking Tips from University of Wisconsin-Steven’s Point

Note taking for kids and teens

Note Taking for Lectures from UMD Duluth

Note Taking for dyslexic students

Note Taking Strategies from Virginia Western (PDF)

A study on student note taking (PDF)

Summarizing and Note Taking

Test Taking Tips

Tips from UMASS

Top 5 Note Taking Tips

Having a thorough note taking strategy is useless unless the notes are actually utilized. There is no more efficient way to implant information in the brain. The above methods are intended to optimize studying, not replace it. Therefore, it is still necessary to look over the notes regularly in order to learn the information.