College Notetaking Tips and Tricks

It's the beginning of the new school year, and we're all absolutely set on making it the best year possible: if you're a returning student, you want to get organized and on top of things this semester. If you're a new student, you want your college life to start out right. But we all know what could happen because we've all been there. You're trying to study for a test, so you flip to your notes and you find out they're either wrong somehow, incomprehensible, or absolutely unhelpful for filling out that study guide.

            So let's talk about how to prevent that:  

1. You do not have to write down everything your professor says, writes on the board, or puts on a PowerPoint slide. When you're studying for a test, you don't want to waste time when you don't really want to be studying in the first place, so you don't want to read pages and pages of irrelevant information or questions that you never wrote down the answer to. Here's a secret I give to you as a senior: your professors don't want to do any more work than you do. Terms, dates, percentages, differences between one thing and another, formulas, diagrams and names are the things that are easy to ask about and expect succinct answers, and those are the things that you should absolutely be marking down. You'll eventually find your professors' individual ways of letting you know other important facts you should be writing down, but those are the essentials. 

2. Listen, listen, listen. This goes back to my first point. If you're focusing so hard on remembering and taking down what your professor said ten seconds ago that you don't hear what your professor is saying right this moment, you're going to tire yourself out and never understand the full picture of the lecture. When you know the full picture, even if you miss out on writing down a little detail, you'll understand the material much better, and you might even be able to reason your way into figuring out the logistics of that little detail you missed.

            Bonus tip: If you're in a lecture class that you know has an on-demand essay as one of its tests, write down a little fact you found interesting or that you know your professor finds really cool. When you stick that into your on-demand essay, it'll show the professor you were listening to their lecture, and they'll be more inclined to grade generously.

3. Make life easier on yourself. You know what you're like when you have tests: You're tired and you don't want to be doing any of the things that you have to be doing in order to pass your class. So, you need to prepare for your future self. If you know you're going to have trouble finding information in your notes because you're still writing oceans of material each class period, use differently colored pens or highlighters to mark what's important. You can even use different colors for different things like terms or dates. It'll also keep you more alert in class. If you're like me and you know you learn things better if you write them down, but you also have awful handwriting, type up your notes sometime after class (not necessarily immediately, but while you still have some idea of what it is you just wrote down). The nice part about typed notes is that once you have a study guide for the class, you can just Control+F your document to find what's on the study guide and bold those areas. Then when you have a few minutes to spare before your test, all you have to do is scan what's in bold to refresh your memory. Also, I do have the Google Drive suite of apps on my phone, so I can do that without having to drag my laptop everywhere. It's nerdy, but it works.

            You're all smart, capable people – you got into college! Use those smarts for your benefit, or else what's the point of having them? Once you've got that down, you're already halfway through mastering everything else about college. And one day, who knows? People might be taking note of you.

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