Don’t waste your time taking notes. 

Don’t let your school work interfere with your education.  – Mark Twain.




The Universe posing as students taking notes

If you write down everything that happens, you may as well be a stenographer.  Stenographers are paid to do transcripts, not to understand what a lecture boils down to.  That’s what you’ll want to know, and you can’t be actively looking for the big idea and writing down stuff at the same time.  Yes, I know people are always advising you to take notes.  It sounds terrific. These  same advisers, like Polonius,  will tell you to be good, work hard, always say thank you, and use your napkin.

If you get to class a bit early, though, you can get your mind in gear but thinking about what happened last time and what’s likely to come up.  That’s called formatting, and what it does is set up a little web in your mind, a little skeleton,  so you’ll have someplace to lodge big ideas that come sailing by.

Your Own Invented Shorthand

Native Speaker

Expert Note-taker

During class, as a sharp observer, you will have jotted down – while the lecturer was clearing her throat – maybe half a dozen words or phrases in your own invented shorthand mixed with abbreviations and texting-type stuff.  You’ll have put those key ideas into your own words,  words that will jog your memory later on when you want to recall what that lecture boiled down to.  This is the sort of thing a self-respecting human being who values his or her time here on Earth, obliged to play the school game, would be doing.  You’re in charge.  You call the shots about how you deal with lectures. Speakers has there purposes; you, I would hope, have yours.

Your job is to watch for the main point. 

There will be only one.  You could be asking yourself, “What’s she getting at?”  If you figure that out, then you’ll want to know how she justifies that point.  She’ll probably have two or three sub-points.

Finally, while everyone else is escaping by the nearest exit, you will look over those bare-minimum notes you took.  You’ll be thinking, “OK, which of these is the big idea?”  You’ll mark that with a star or you’ll underline it or highlight it or put a big Roman numeral I beside it.  Then you’ll decide which are the key sup-points and mark them 1, 2, and 3 or A, B, and C.  And just to clean it all up, you’ll add any reminders that seem suitable.

Finally, finally, while your still sitting there, write down in your own words, the fewest  possible, the gist of the lecture.  If you skip this step, within a few minutes you’ll forget 80% of what you just sat through .  That’s just the way short-term memory works. This step reinforces what you just culled from the lecture and moves it into your long-term memory, which is where it needs to be.


Words are the source of misunderstanding. — The Little Prince



Then you’ll go relax and see what’s happening in your neighborhood.






[You can Google Jennis Jerz’s Web article: Taking Notes: 5 College Success Tips/ Jerz’s Literacy Weblog for some more good ideas.]


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