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When preparing for exams, it’s important to have a good set of notes to revise from. Notes provide you with a summary of relevant and important points, highlight significant references and can be a forum for your own thoughts and comments.
Taking good notes is not only important while studying at school or university – it’s a skill that extends to the workplace, for tasks such as taking minutes, having your own personal notes from meetings or conversations, and summarising points covered at conferences or training.
Read these tips to help you take great notes and make studying for your exams as effective as possible.
Hearing refers to sounds, while listening refers to meaning. You listen for ideas, not words. To listen effectively you need to pay attention to how something is said, the use of language and voice, and how the speaker uses his or her body, known as body language. Listening takes a great deal of focus and concentration and is a key skill for success at school, university and in the workplace, because 80% of what we know comes from listening. Without good listening skills, your notes won’t be as valuable as they could be.
Being an active listener is a key factor in taking effective notes. You will likely know something about the subject you are hearing about in class, and linking new material with what you already know will help you listen more actively. Listening with questions in mind will also help you listen better and remember more.
While you need to be seated comfortably in class, you should adopt a position that will help you concentrate. Sit upright, respond appropriately to the speaker and be prepared to take notes, as this can help you concentrate on what the speaker is saying.
Good notes must:
• be as neat as possible – so you can decipher them later
• indicate the main points of the talk
• show the relationship of the details to the main points
• include enough illustrative detail to enrich notes and content.
To take good notes, whether you’re handwriting on paper or using a computer or tablet, remember to:
• do any necessary pre-reading to prepare for class
• watch the speaker as much as you can – to understand their body language as well as what they are saying
• use a pen – notes in pencil will smear and are hard to read
• use a large notebook so you can leave wide margins and not crowd your lines together
• date your notes for reference in exam preparation
• concentrate on the ideas/argument the speaker is developing
• don’t take too many notes – do more listening than writing
• if points are repeated, underline them to show they were emphasised – don’t write them more than once.
• use abbreviations and shorthand to reduce as many ideas as possible; don’t necessarily use complete sentences.
• listen for signals, e.g.: ‘The first point I want to discuss today…’.
Read over your notes as soon after class as possible to fix handwriting, spelling and clarity. Expand where necessary, tie points together, and/or consult references mentioned to develop points or further clarify concepts. These notes have now become your own set of clear revision notes and a valuable reference for the future, and re-reading them is a good way to help you remember key concepts.
Have a look at some example note taking methods and find one that you think you could use. There is no right or wrong, as long as your notes work for YOU. Some note taking methods include the Cornell, outlining, charting and the mapping methods – an internet search can easily find these and others for you, and you can choose the one that suits you best.
Read some more tips on how to hack your exam study or six tips for students to improve time management.
Deakin University offers a range of online resources to improve your academic skills.
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