How To Survive College: How To Take Notes

As you may or may not know (if you don’t: where have you been all this time?!?): I’m a college student. And because I do take on quite an extra load of work (extra courses, a job, extracurricular activities) and still do manage to get quite good marks (in general, there’s exceptions to every rule), I have been told that I’m pretty good at the whole studying thing.
What’s more, I have been asked how exactly I do it, and seeing how as “no sleep, no life” apparently wasn’t a sufficient answer, I figured I’d write some of my tips down here!
In Wednesday’s post, I went over how you could prepare for class – of course: the moment you’re actually in class, you do tend to have to actually take notes. Just a quick disclaimer here: I am not a certified anything – these are just my personal tips. Also, as I do study Literature and Linguistics, I’m not 100% sure whether these tips are going to be all too useful for you if, for example, you study chemistry – but it certainly won’t hurt to read them, so let’s get started!


And here’s another disclaimer: there is no such thing as the right way to take notes – I have a separate system, basically per course, and I don’t think that, if you put me and all my friends together, you’re going to find two of us with the same method.

However – there are some ‘tendencies’, and that’s what I’m going to be talking about now!

By laptop

 
Not gonna lie to you – this is my n°1 way of taking notes. I’m a really fast typer (way faster than I can write, at least) and I’ve certainly had my share of professors who can basically just talk non-stop, at high speed for two hours straight, leaving you with not really any idea as to what you just wrote down, but – at least I usually manage to actually have gotten it down!
One of the biggest advantages of taking notes by laptop, I personally feel, is that it’s really easy to keep your structure straight – as well as to go over it again later to make sure you end up with a beauty such as this:
 
The important thing here is to make sure to go over your notes again at night. Get out any typo’s, try and understand everything and of course: going over your notes helps you retain the information!
 

By hand

Aaaah, the good old pen-and-paper method! I try to do this for at least one course every term – if nothing else, then just because (if I don’t) I end up with cramps in my hand during exams, because I’d basically have to go from “not writing ever” to “20 pages an hour, here you go”.
However, even though this does seem pretty basic, there are some different ways to do this.

First of all: there’s the cramp-inducing “write everything down you hear and go through it again later” – I’ll give you, there are some courses where I have done this, but in general I try not to take notes this way in these kind of courses – if only because it generally ends up looking something like this:

This one doesn’t actually look that bad – but that’s just because this is approximately the only page out of the total of notes I took that term I’m actually willing to share with the world.
Of course, there are those rare exceptions when I actually -somehow- manage to get everything down somewhat neatly, as was the case here:
In general, though: if my professor insists on babbling all class long? I will insist on typing all class long! (of course, I really loved that second course, so that might just have something to do with it 🙂 )
That I prefer to take notes by laptop, does not, however, mean that I don’t also take my fair share of notes by hand – as I already said: I’m making myself – and also: sometimes it’s just plain old more useful that way!
For example, I have (had) a couple of courses where the professor makes really good powerpoints, and then I do tend to try and use those, in one of two ways: if my professor takes the powerpoint as a starting point, and then talks about and around it a lot, I’ll just print the slides and take notes in the sides – depending on how much exactly my professor has to say about that, it’ll end up looking either like this:

Or like this:

I’d say it’s pretty clear that for the second course, there was a lot more to be written down than for the first, but for both those courses, I found it easiest to take notes by hand anyway.
If my professor mainly just reads his slides, though, I’ll usually use my time in class to just copy them by hand, and make sure their structure is clear – if I don’t, I get bored, and then I get distracted, and then I end up missing the important things my professor is saying. One of the courses for which I’ve taken to doing this now looks like this – and all of this is done during class, which saves me so much time when it comes to actually studying my notes (but more on that on Tuesday!)

The last variant of professor is generally the one that puts all their effort into their manual – they’re rare (at least: they seem to be here), but when you get one of those, I’ve found that, for me, it’s easiest to just start from the syllabus. It allows you to read along, to add in any information where needed, and you immediately have all your notes in one place – which is especially good if, like me, you can’t seem to keep track of any and all loose papers.
The one downside? Occasionally, your ‘notes’ will end up looking like this:
My professor wouldn’t stop talking here, so I eventually ended up making a circle around the text – just to get all the extra info on there!
I’ll talk a bit more about how to handle manuals, etc. in the next post, so here’s one last tip for taking notes: it is completely okay to take some time to figure out what works best for you and for your individual courses. No two courses are the same, and so it’s only logical that no two courses require the same type of note-taking. It’s even possible that you’ll switch half way through the semester because what worked at first, doesn’t any more!
The most important things about taking notes, is doing it in such a manner that you are going to be able to study from them later, that you’ll still be able to decipher them later on, and that you get all the necessary down – anything else is secondary!
Anyways, that’s it for this weeks’ post on How To Survive College. You can follow the link to read the other posts, and be sure to let me know any other tricks or tips you might have below!
-Saar