Yes, it is possible to be taking notes “incorrectly” or at least not as efficiently as you could. But that’s okay! This post is here to help you. It might be helpful to read my previous post here first.
In order for note taking to be optimally effective, you must think before you write. What I mean by this is that you should avoid writing just to write. If you’re taking notes and get to the point where you’re essentially copying the textbook verbatim… take a break. "Just" getting the notes done is not going to benefit you in the long run. Take the extra time to do it right. Take breaks if you need to. If you don’t, you’re wasting your time because retention is better when you create your own material rather than copying and reading over and over again something from a textbook. You must manipulate the information in some way.
One way you can do that is to create questions from the text. Of course it is important to write down questions for yourself to practice with (what, how, why, etc.), but it’s also important that you evaluate what you need to put in your notes. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I need to know this?
- Can this be asked on an exam?
- If so, how might it be asked?
- How else might it be asked?
- Can this be applied to other subjects?
- Is there a real-life application to this that will help me remember?
- Will I even remember this in a week?
If you can say “yes” to the last question, than you might not even need to add it in your notes, or at least future study guides. These questions might seem excessive at first, but with practice it becomes second nature. The purpose of this type of note taking is not to condense or summarize, believe it or not! Rather, this method allows you to analyze, research, reorganize, and do away with filler.
I should probably mention also that this method is not a shortcut by any means. It will take more mental effort than “normal” note taking, but it’s absolutely worth it. Be confident that your notes were made with care and focus. If you feel like some important information is missing, just try to add it in somehow. As much as some people like to put in the effort to make their notes pretty, it’s not about being pretty. If you want to study as efficiently as possible, don’t worry about perfect notes. The point is to help you learn. Besides, you can make your study guides pretty instead! More on that in a future post!