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Towards better note-taking

Renata Galiamov

Have you ever caught yourself mechanically writing out sentences from your textbook verbatim, trying to summarise a chapter of your textbook? Ever noticed that although it appears you’re doing work, nothing seems to be going into your head?

We’ve all been there. Thankfully, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure you’re taking more meaningful notes and making things stick.

Taking notes increases your understanding and confidence.

For starters, why should we bother taking notes at all? Taking notes is a highly effective learning strategy, requiring you to absorb information and rephrase it in a way that is clear to you. By rephrasing the information, you test whether you truly understand the concept at hand, which allows you to easily identify areas in which you need to seek help or do further reading. Additionally, on a psychological level, having clear, concise, ordered notes makes you feel organised and prepared, boosting your confidence for tests and SACs.

Follow a consistent method when taking notes.

Consistency is key in VCE. Consistent attendance, consistent study sessions, consistent note-taking format. If you’re not sure how to get started on taking notes, or if you’d like to try another approach, consider this tried and tested GRASP method…

1. Glance through the textbook section/ chapter.

Firstly, it’s important to prepare your brain for the information it is about to receive. Glance through the pages you’re about to summarise, paying attention to subheadings and bolded words to get an idea of what concepts are going to be addressed. That way, your brain will have a schematic of the topic, making it easier to assimilate new information.

2. Read the section carefully and actively.

Next, it’s time to read the section you’re summarising. Read with care and really focus on what concept the textbook is trying to impart to you, and how it connects with other things you’ve already learnt. Don’t take any notes at this stage, just read!

3. Analyse what you’ve just read.

Stop and have a think about what you’ve gained by reading the section of your textbook. Is there anything that didn’t quite sink in? Now’s the time to look to other resources (such as Connect Notes or good old Google) for clarification on any tricky concepts. Ensure you fully understand what you have read before continuing. Additionally, consider the order it makes the most sense to organise the notes in — the order in which information is presented in the textbook may not always be the most logical order to you personally, so don’t be afraid to mix it up!

4. Summarise the key concepts in your own words.

Now you’re ready to start writing notes. Succinctly summarise the main ideas in dot-points, and define any terminology in your own words. Where appropriate, think of some mnemonics (such as acronyms, abbreviations, and rhymes) you could use to remember slabs of information, especially processes or structures. Consider also drawing some mind maps or diagrams to visually summarise information.

5. Proofread your work and highlight methodically.

We’re not done yet! Once you’ve finished writing, read over your notes and cross-reference the textbook to ensure you’ve covered all key points and that everything makes sense. At this point, you can also highlight your notes methodically; for instance, highlight subheadings in one colour, definitions in another, and examples in yet another colour (and keep these colour-codes consistent across all subjects you summarise). This will help you easily orient yourself when you’re looking back through your notes in the future.

Making notes is only the beginning.

And now that you’ve put in all the effort to create these meaningful notes, make sure you take the time to review them regularly — spending 15 minutes a day looking back through a section of your notes will help consolidate knowledge in your brain and keep it fresh, meaning you won’t have an avalanche of information of process come exam time.

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