Imagine you're in class or watching a presentation and want to take notes so that you don't forget everything after it's finished. Taking good notes is not as simple as you might think. You might write down too much and then struggle to keep up with the presentation, or if you don't structure your notes well you may not be able to find the information you need later.
1. Write by hand
Studies have shown that the brain absorbs much more information when you write by hand as opposed to typing on a computer. There are various reasons for this. For example, when taking notes on the computer, people tend to write too much. Since typing on the keyboard is a lot faster than making handwritten notes, it's easy to write down a lot of information that doesn't really contribute to understanding the topic. The problem with that is that at some point you can't keep up and then the notes get messy and you're left with something which isn't that useful.
When you write by hand, you instinctively filter out the most important information and are forced to repeat what was said in your own words in order not to copy long sentences from the presentation or board.
Additionally, writing something out by hand helps you to store and remember information better because you are both writing and reading at the same time. This process activates motor memory and supports the brain as it internalises the information. In order for note-taking to work well, you must first listen carefully and only then start writing. In this way, you will be able to note down the most important information and maintain an overview.
Tip #2: The right materials
Constantly taking notes can take a lot out of you. The right materials can help support your hand so it doesn't start hurting and needs a break less often. It's easy to make a mistake when selecting a pen. Biros are practical, cheap and you can always find one somewhere in a pocket, but unfortunately they are not suitable for long notes. You have to use a lot of pressure, which can quickly tire your hand out. A pencil, fountain pen or ballpoint pen is a better choice, as they make writing easier and you shouldn't end up in pain!
It's also important to have a variety of pens with you, on the one hand in case your favourite pen should run out, and on the other hand, so that you can highlight things with coloured pens or with highlighters.
If you really can't take notes without your tablet, make sure you turn off the notifications first. This way you will not be distracted by emails or messages from classmates.
Tip #3: Work with structure
In order for taking notes by hand to work, you need a sensible technique. There are templates that can be downloaded from the internet, or you can also create your own template that you can use again and again.
If you prefer to design your template yourself, there are a few tricks you can use to structure it in a meaningful way. Of course, you need space at the top for the title of the presentation or the class you are attending. The date should not be missing either! Divide the remaining space into a small margin on the left side and space at the bottom of the page. You can now write your notes in the main, biggest space on the page. The column on the left is used to write down keywords, headings and perhaps also questions. This column then acts as a table of contents, so that you can easily find your way around later when you read through the notes. The space at the bottom of the page is for writing a brief summary of the presentation. This way you will remember the content faster later when revising it.
This is just an idea of how a template might be structured. Ultimately, the system you use has to work for you personally.
Tip #4: Use colours
To make your notes clearer and more eye-catching, it helps to work with colours. Colour key words, or highlight important sentences with a highlighter. Work with arrows, symbols or plus and minus signs. Abbreviations can also make it easier to take notes. Finally, it is important that you write legibly. Even the best notes are useless if you can't read them at the end.
To read more about how colours can help you learn
, check out our other blog articles.
Tip #5: Revise your notes
Revise, repeat, summarise: this also applies to your presentation notes. If you simply stuff your notes in your school bag after the presentation and only look at them again the day before the exam, then you are making life more difficult for yourself. Look through everything again shortly after the class or presentation. You can add headings and write a short summary for each presentation. This doesn't have to be long, it can also be just two or three sentences. The main thing is that you think about the topic again so that the information stays stored in your brain for a longer amount of time.
When taking notes without a plan, chaos is inevitable. It is therefore important to be prepared when you take the notes during your next class or presentation. Be aware that handwriting is much more helpful when you need to store information in your long-term memory. By moving your hand while writing down what you hear, your motor memory is activated and you can remember content better. It is also helpful to follow a template. Such templates can be downloaded from the Internet, but you can also design them yourself and include your personal preferences. To make sure taking notes isn't a waste of time, you should quickly revise and summarise the notes afterwards so that you have an overview for the future and so that the necessary information can be found quickly.