Note Taking and Listening in Class

My last topic focuses on how to get the most out of your class time-- the “good” classes, the ones you’re interested in, the ones with the entertaining profs--even the ones you don't care for that much. You have to be honest with yourself; you're in class to learn--not to sleep, read the paper, draw cartoon figures, talk with your friend, or check for text messages. All of that can come before or after class; commit yourself now to get what you can out of your classes. Determine to be attentive--especially when it's not easy.  Remember; you need to take control.

To accomplish this, you must be ready to listen and participate, and the first factor is simple and basic: where and how you sit.  Right--where and how you sit. Sit where you can see and hear what's going on, where you'll be seen by the professor, and where you won't be easily distracted from the work at hand. That usually means front and/or center in the room. It doesn't mean way in the back or in the corner; by the window so you can look out; on the far side of the room so you can text or play Spider Solitaire; or next to a friend so you'll be tempted to joke around.           

How you sit is important too. Just like when you study, you shouldn't be slouching in your chair, leaning on your hand, or even lying face down on your desk. Makes sense, right??? As difficult as it may be some times, you need to sit up straight, with your writing material or computer in front of you, and your eyes and attention on the professor. As a result, you won't fall asleep and you'll actually know what went on.

And you'll have to take notes--in some classes more than in others. Your task is to get the essence of what went on and have a record for later reference of the important material of the day. But for notes too, you'll need a plan.

One basic hint is to have a separate notebook/laptop folder for each course. This way there's plenty of room to add whatever you like—your reaction, for example, or some material from what you’ve read--and there's no chance for confusion with other courses. If you're using your computer for notes, be sure there is a distinct file for each course, and be sure to back up your files to a memory stick.  Technology is wonderful—fast and eye-opening—but sometimes we can be lulled into thinking it’s perfect.  It’s not!!  So use common sense, and back up your materials—your notes, your papers, anything you think you’ll need.  Each day, start a new page(even if there's room on the last one) and date it clearly. Your notes will be more coherent than if days and material are mixed together.

Use one side of each page and leave some space for your own comments or any additions you might want to make later from your textbook or later classes. You can even write down questions you might have or jot down a reminder about some point you didn't understand.  Believe it or not, it’s important to know what you don’t know too; it’s a guide to what you have to review, ask about, and work on.

Don't write down or type everything the professor says; try to get at the essence. And you don't have to write complete sentences either- or even complete words. These are notes—notes to yourself, not a paper, so you can leave out the "the”s, the “an”s, and other unessential words and phrases.  As long as you can understand them and they are complete, they are good notes.  Neatness may help, but it doesn’t count here—if you can read what you’ve written.    If you are permitted to download notes or Power Point slides, be sure to take advantage.

Listen for points of emphasis from the professor--items repeated, things written on the board or presented on an overhead, points you read in the chapter the night before (you did read the chapter, didn’t you??). As you go along, you'll get to know how each professor emphasizes his/her points. The sooner you understand his/her method, the better note-taker you'll become.

Feel free to abbreviate as much as possible- as long as you're able to understand them later on. So George Washington can be "GW," and "should be" can be "s/b." This will allow you to record more while continuing to listen to the next point.  And you know that with some profs, the points come rapidly, one right after the other.

But be sure to reread your notes soon after the class to add any comments, fill in any blank spots, use arrows or colors to link parts of your notes, note where you're confused or have any questions. Just about ten extra minutes right after class can save you hours of confusion when exams roll around later on. If you're missing something, ask a classmate or see the professor. Don't wait too long, or you'll forget what you wrote.  Don’t stay confused!!

Then make a practice of regularly reviewing your notes--just a few minutes at a time to keep yourself in practice. And don't ignore the logic of talking notes over with classmates; you'd be surprised at how mutually supportive you can be. Hey, you might even develop a workable study group, sharing your insights, and learning from each other.

Nothing stops any of us from entering random notes at any time into our laptops, I Pads or I Phones.  So if you are out of class (and that means anywhere) and you suddenly experience a burst of intellectual light, get your insight or even your question into your electronic note file—it’s easier now than ever before.  In the old days, we had to have index cards and a pen; all you need now is your thumbs and an idea.  Take advantage of the modern age!!