How to Pass a Course/Taking notes

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Taking notes is an extremely important aspect of studying that is often neglected, despite the fact that it can make the difference between a moderate grade and an excellent one. Taking notes can involve more cognitive or "thought work" than the common alternative of merely highlighting important terms or phrases in a text, but it also produces better learning. Its benefits happen by focusing attention on the material in two ways: initially at the time of reading it, and later at the time of reviewing the notes.

Why Take Notes?[edit]

Takings notes provides a person with a way to review material learned. Reviewing and reading notes allows a person a chance to know what is on an exam, test, or pop quiz. One of the more important reasons to take notes, is to create a placemark. This placemark allows the note taker to know when the lecturer stopped giving a lecture for the day.

For example: Did the teacher stop midway between Chapter 10.. or are we on Chapter 11 now?

In this make-believe situation: You review the notes and notice how the ending material of the notes are similar to the material seen before the ending part of Chapter 10. Therefore, you figure the teacher did not lecture on Chapter 11 yet... or else you dazed out really bad the last half of class.

Knowing this gives you a chance to read ahead or study certain materials, and place emphasis on studying a particular section of notes and book reading.

Notes are also a way of reviewing what you have learned in the lecture. During the lecture, a teacher may put emphasis on a particular term or word. These particular terms or words may be found on an oncoming test or quiz. Studying materials on notes gives a person a chance to know what the teacher expects you to know, now that the teacher has presented you with that material.

If the material is on the notes, the teacher expects you to know the material is on the notes.

Therefore, there is a good chance the material will be on a test.

The Voice Recorder[edit]

Besides the obvious paper and pencil, many technological additions of the past decades allow for someone to take notes with deadly accuracy.

  • Digital Voice Recorder
  • OR Analog Voice Recorder (recorders that use casette tapes)

These additions save effort (and reduce writers' cramp) at the time of listening to a lecture, but they also have two kinds of limitations. One kind is practical--getting good quality sound (see below for more discussion of this challenge).

Another kind of limitation is the time needed, sooner or later, to listen to recorded notes. Since speech proceeds at a relatively fixed rate, it is hard to do "speed listening" equivalent to "speed reading" of notes that are written. This fact of life puts a premium on abbreviating voice recordings of notes--though it should also be noted that the physical work of writing puts a premium on abbreviating written as well. Since taking notes is work either by writing or by recording, the best advice is to use whichever medium feels most comfortable. Learning recorder


Buying a Voice Recorder[edit]

The voice recorder is essential to any student who wants to take accurate notes. More importantly is a voice recorder with the ability to upload voice files to a computer console. Often when looking into buying a voice recorder, the choice can be complicated and indefinite. Fore, one must buy and try before deciding on one to buy. However, due to the technical limitations provided by manufacturers and stores, reviews and other word of mouth advice seems to be the supplies provided in obtaining a decent voice recorder.

Many things should be considered when buying a voice recorder.

  • How long does the voice recorder record?
* Can it record for two hours or more?
Some classes last two hours and thirty minutes (2:30 hours)
A recorder that can record for this long is essential.
  • Can the batteries be replaced or do the batteries need to be recharged?
* What type of batteris does the recorder take?
Many devices "eat up" battery electrolytes (power) quickly.
Getting a recorder with easy to replace batteries found in common stores is suitable for replenishing the supply of power.
  • Can the recordings be saved to a computer?
Being able to put files on a computer allows for a person to sort lectures according to dates.

Using the Voice Recorder[edit]

Getting a voice recorder saves a person a lot of time taking notes. If a teacher is mostly lecture, as in, the teacher rarely writes on the chalkboard/whiteboard, then it would be best to get a voice recorder to save your hand from developing arthritis.

Positioning inside a Class Room[edit]

The typical area of a placement is one of the greatest factors to consider when using a voice recorder. Observation is the key to finding a good place to set the recorder.

If you notice that a teacher does not past a certain line of boundary, say past his or her desk, then you could possibly put the recorder on his or her desk. (ask if you may first)

However, if the teacher walks around the room this creates problems. If a teacher walks past the desk, and his or her back is facing towards the desk, then the teacher's voice will not reach the voice recorder as effective--and the voice may not be recorded at all.

Often placing the recorder one's own desk is suitable if better positioning cannot be found elsewhere.

However, to have a recorder sitting on a desk while jotting down notes can cause interference when voice and other sounds are being recorded. Often the writings and scribbles cause a sound of scratching on the paper which will be picked up on the recorder. At other times, the sound of flipping a page on a binder--to go to the next clean sheet for writing notes--will be picked up on the recorder. Another thing to consider is the sound of the arm moving against a desk, while the hand goes downwards on a sheet of paper, as notes are being written. Often the rubbing sound of an arm against a desk and the hand against the paper will be recorded.

The remedies recommended for these problems are as follows:

  • Use an inkpen.
Inkpens glide on paper. Also, pencil writings tend to fade with time.
Pencil is often a bad writing utensil for notes. This is why I suggest an erasable pen.
  • Wear long sleeves
Human skin is like leather at times. Clothing will create less friction on the desk.
  • Use an ID card under your hand.
This is an art technique I learned long ago. It allows the hand to be placed on the ID, as the ID easily slides on paper. Sometimes it works; sometimes it does not.
  • Listen carefully to the person giving a lecture.
I've found that professors at times go off at a tangent. The best thing to do is notice when there is a break in his or her logic being conversated, and quickly flip the page. It is at times best to bring the notebook off the desk, away from the recorder, and then flip the page to reduce recorded noise.

Uploading the Files[edit]

I personally like to upload all files to a computer. With one or more file belong to a particular date, say Feb-26-07, I put those files in a computer folder labeled: Feb-26-07 From there, I make a backup copy of the files inside the folders and put them on a CD.

  • CD-Drives are more common to find around schools than DVD-Drives. Therefore, a CD is more suitable than a DVD storage medium.

Also, I create a backup of that CD.

  • Take the files inside the CD and put those onto a storage medium: considerably another CD.
  • After burning a CD, make a backup on a DVD (if possible -- if not, then a CD) and then store that disc somewhere safe. I like to put things in my top dresser drawer. Always make backups of a lecture, this is very important. Backups are gravely important!
  • Another thing to consider is if you use a program to listen to the audio files. If you use a program to listen to the audio files, it would be best to find the setup program of that recorder. Take the setup program and put the program on the CD that you will carry around with you. Also, put a copy of the audio listening setup program on the backup to always have the setup program on hand.
  • Sometimes the setup programs can be found on the installation CD that comes with a voice recorder.
Other times, a person could call Technical Help to help them find the program from the Internet and download it.

Never take the original with you! Always take the Backup.

Take the backup with you around the campus and listen to the audio files at a campus computer when you want to study/review.

Uploading with an Analog Recorder[edit]

This is a guide if someone wishes to create a backup. Otherwise, a person could simply find a safe place to store his or her cassette tape and access when he or she wishes to listen to it.

Make a backup of the cassette tape recording.

Typically one uses the Line Out feature of a recorder and plugs a wire into the Line Out hole.

The wire then extends to the Line In hole of another device (computers, boombox, etc.) and then inserts that part of the wire into the Line In.

(Recorder) Line Out <----> Line In (Boombox)

Typically one pushes play on the analog voice recorder and pushes record on the boombox. Label the cassette tape with the date of the recording and set that somewhere safe.

You don't technically need to make a backup, however, I always like the idea of making backups.

I could be wrong, if I am, please someone correct this entry.

Getting the teacher to repeat something[edit]

Often times a person in the classroom will cough harshly. Coughs are typically very loud and will block out any voice coming into the recorder. Many times, other students could not hear what the teacher said during the time someone in the class coughed. In consideration, what a person should do is ask the teacher to repeat what he or she said. Do not fear asking the teacher the question, "Could you please repeat that?" because many other students may not have heard the teacher over the other student's sneeze, cough, or disruptive movements.

Hybrid Voice Recorder and Note Taking[edit]

With the Chalkboard[edit]

A method that is very well used when taking notes and using a voice recorder can help a person backtrack and review notes. Often times a teacher will give lectures and write on the board rarely. When a teacher writes on the board, it is best to look at the voice recorder and take note of how much time has expired and write the current recording time on the note page.

For example:

Let's say the teacher has been talking about studies in psychology without writing anything on the board for a while.

Finally, the teacher writes something on the board.

  • Phallic Stage and male idea of swords

The recorder has been on for about one hour and thirty minutes. The recorder displays (1:30:15) with :15 being 15 seconds.

  • Write the time displayed on the notepage. (1:30:15)
  • Then, copy the material on the chalkboard onto the notepage.
Without the Chalkboard[edit]

Sometimes the teacher doesn't even use the chalkboard. However insane that may be, some may not. In that situation, a voice recorder would be highly regarded as necessary.

As the teacher talks, you need to find placemarks that help you backtrack to certain parts of the lecture.

For instance, the teacher breaks the class lecture into three parts:

  • Intro to baskets
  • how to choose weaving material
  • weaving the basket

Subparts are included, however, he or she does not describe them to you. Thus, as the lecture goes on, you'll need to find a way to backtrack to certain material that he or she has spoken about.

If you don't want to listen to the whole recording again, it would be wise write that time down. That way, you can backtrack and review that material.

Let's say the teacher talks about Native American weaving techniques. You know this part is going to be on the test.

You look at the voice recorder displaying (1:45:19)

You jot down on your notebook

  • (1:45:19) Native American Techniques.

Problems with recording Lectures[edit]

There are many disadvantages to using a recorder. When recording a lecture, one must re-listen to the entire lecture. This means using another 2 and 1/2 hours. However, you could use a tape recorder if you intend to re-use a small clip in you're private study.

Taking notes while reading the text book[edit]

Taking notes while reading your text can be the most critical part of passing a class. In most classes the majority of information learned is taken from the text book, thus it is critical you retain as much of the information as possible. The mechanics of taking notes while reading a text book can be broken down further into various techniques.

Type or write?[edit]

Typing your notes or writing your notes is a matter of personal preference. If you can type faster than you write, you might prefer typing over writing. Also typing your notes makes sure that they are legible. However if you do plan to type your notes make sure that you have your book, monitor, and keyboard in a comfortable position to avoid neck or back cramps while note taking. Writing out your notes has the advantage of allowing free-form drawing. Something that is possible when typing, but can be cumbersome.

The Bookmark Technique[edit]

Often words/terms in bold--or words/terms that are important--are read. The best thing a person can do is take a sheet of writing paper and fold it up until it forms a makeshift bookmark. Then, when coming across terms, write the word found in bold on the bookmark writing line with the page number. Sometimes putting down names read and the page number the information about the person is on--does well.

This way, a person can track what page he or she is on. Also, it provides a way for someone to glance quickly at the bookmark and try to remember what the term means. If he or she does not remember what the word/term means, he or she can simply turn back to the page and regrasp the material.

The best part of this technique is that you can fold the bookmark up and put it in your pocket while going from place to place. All someone has to do is take the bookmark out of his or her pocket, look at it, and think hard about the terms and words on the bookmark. This is a great way to quickly review.

Copying the text verbatim[edit]

Copying text from the text book verbatim is the least perferred method of taking notes, but it can be somewhat helpful if it is the only option avaliable.

Copying definitions verbatim[edit]

When reading a Math or Science text, copying definitions verbatim is appropriate, and required. Science and Math are build upon precise definitions, so modifying in any way will distort key concepts. The definitions are so important that copying them to flash cards for memorization is encouraged if time permits.

Paraphrasing concepts and paragraphs[edit]

Paraphrasing concepts is the ideal way to take notes. It will force you to actually think about what you read. For Math and Science texts, extract ALL definitions and relevant theorems from paragraphs, and organize them into lists and sublists. This will make sure you know they exist. When reading all other texts, try to summarize ALL concepts. Summarizing paragraphs will help too, but isn't as effective because the author of the text has already done some of the organization for you. You may think that summarizing all concepts is a bit extreme, but often in a class you don't know what will be on the test and what won't, so if you want a high grade, this is the only way to be sure.

What if I don't understand something in the text?[edit]

The following is just a partial list of what you can do in this situation.

  1. Ask your instructor for clarification. You can call or email your instructor before the next time class meets, or just wait until class. This is usually a very good option if you only have a small number of questions. Unfortunatly instructors tend to be very busy and are difficult to get in touch with.
  2. Ask a friend or class mate. This is a good option only if your friend knows the material better than you do. If not then you will have a situation of the blind leading the blind.
  3. Get another text book from the library that covers the same subject. This is an excellent option because text book explanations are usually well thought out, and there are often many text books in the library on the same subject, which all describe the same concepts, but from different points of view, and in different wording.

Asking yourself, and answering questions[edit]

This is an EXTREMELY good technique. Once you read a section of text, ask your self as many questions as time allows about what you have read. Try to answer them based on the content of the book. It is good to do this as you go along, because it will make sure that your truly understood read before you go on to the next section. This technique is essential if you are reading from texts that don't have a lot of questions in them, or have questions that don't have answers in the back.

Taking notes during lecture[edit]

Shorthand can be helpful. Following along in the derivation of a solution to a math problem is a very good way to stay focused.

Helpful Links[edit]