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Mastering the art of effective note-taking

Taking notes is all about jogging the memory and reminding yourself of a learning experience. Great note-taking, and writing skills in general, can help you through school, uni and your career. But many people can’t shake the idea they’re not doing this note-taking thing ‘right’.

Fear isn’t the best motivator. Writing every word spoken by a lecturer while in panic mode means you’re missing the point. And how ironic is that?

Dr Antonia Pont, Senior Lecturer in Writing and Literature at Deakin University, says students often don’t know what’s ‘normal’ when it comes to being at university. A common worry is that they’re not smart enough to be there. That not understanding material the moment they hear it means they’re stupid. But that couldn’t be any further from the truth.

‘If you understood it all the first time around, you’d already be an expert,’ Dr Pont says. What you learn in a degree is meant to be fresh and surprising; she urges students to get smart in their approach to note-taking, instead of putting themselves under undue pressure.

Think twice about writing notes when technology can help

Most of the time you don’t need to type in a wild frenzy. For example, many lectures at Deakin are recorded and uploaded. Information won’t disappear.

Dr Pont says some science-based fields with lots of facts suit a dot-point learning process. But for the humanities, where students are often challenging what they think, as well as the way they think, effective note-taking isn’t that straightforward.

The mind needs to grapple with these ideas more than once. Dr Pont recommends attending lectures like this on campus, without taking notes. Then download and listen to the lecture again as soon as possible, writing notes this time.

Armed with the knowledge of how the content maps out, the pressure is off. Your mind is relaxed and receptive – and the quality of your notes will greatly improve.

Work out your unique note-taking style

Understand how your mind absorbs information. ‘The first thing is to know what kind of learner you are,’ Dr Pont says. Are you visually-oriented or do you take information in aurally? Is it helpful for you to type or write while you listen? Adjust your note-taking technique to suit.

Remember to disconnect, and only focus on the material. Forget multi-tasking: when it comes to effective note-taking, monotasking is all the rage. And stay away from social media. ‘It’s very hard to take notes if you’re also checking Facebook,’ Dr Pont says.

Recognise that the ability to take good notes is an art form. Consider some general tips and remember that ‘it’s a skill that gets better over time,’ Dr Pont says.

'The first thing is to know what kind of learner you are'

Dr Antonia Pont,
Senior Lecturer in Writing and Literature at Deakin University

Make sure you review your notes effectively

One effective way to review your written notes is to talk about them. Dr Pont says that students who get together once a week to discuss material often have a better understanding of the topic and subsequently earn the highest marks.

Make sure your notes for an assignment or an exam are easy to review. It’s hard to take notes while listening to someone speak – after a lecture, always check that what you’ve written makes sense.

Lastly, avoid triggering aversion. In other words, don’t hate on taking notes! It shouldn’t be a pressure-filled experience. And Dr Pont adds, absorbing knowledge actually becomes harder when lectures become stressful encounters.

‘If you sew aversion into yourself, it’s very hard to pull out the stitches, so just don’t do it.’ Her advice is to relax and enjoy the chance to learn.

Deciding what to study? Browse Deakin courses for a pathway to a great career.

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Dr Antonia Pont
Dr Antonia Pont

Senior Lecturer in Writing and Literature, Deakin University

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