Text: What to do with your notes

What to do with your notes

Typical full-time college students take four or five classes each semester.  They sit through 12-15 hours of class each week, and each hour is filled with information they are responsible for learning.  From what psychologists know about memory, it is impossible for students to remember everything they hear in lecture without a written record to review later.

It is not enough to simply write down points from lecture and re-read them several times before the test.  That process breeds familiarity with the information without necessarily understanding it or being able to put it to use.  The goal of taking notes should be a thorough comprehension of the material-being able to explain concepts to others and put information to use in a variety of contexts.  If you have ever thought you studied your notes enough to perform well on a test and ended up with a poor score, you probably confused familiarity with true understanding.  To help with understanding and improve your growth mindset, work with your notes in the following ways:

1.Compose relevant questions of various levels in the margin.  These questions must be answered in the notes you have taken since they are they instructor’s implied questions which he or she answered in lecture.

2.Highlight or underline key words or phrases that accurately answer the questions. Remember that you want your memory of the answer, do not highlight the entire answer.

3.Create a student page to interact with the material (e.g. future topics to explore, areas of confusion to be cleared up, glossary of terms, definitions, concept maps, personal example, etc.)  This is also a good place for you to generate hypothesis and judgment questions about the lecture.  This will encourage higher-level thinking and further your understanding of the material.

Key Words

One of the criteria for the note-taking technique is highlighting or underlining key word answers to questions.  Highlighting whole sections of notes (or readings) forces you to passively to reread during review rather than actively think about the material.  Choosing key word answers to questions, on the other hand, organizes information around concepts and helps successful recall of material.  In short, key words or phrases prompt your memory of an entire answer.

A key word or phrase triggers a range of associations that may be either denotative or connotative, factual or conceptual.  For example, your sociology notes on ethnocentrism may read:

Ethnocentrism is the belief that your way of life, your beliefs and practices, your culture is superior to all others.  Hitler was ethnocentric in his view of the master Aryan race.

To test yourself on the question, “describe ethnocentrism,” you might highlight the words “superior” and “Hitler.”  If you had forgotten the meaning of ethnocentrism, those key words should prompt your memory of the complete answer.  This forces you to think critically about the concept “ethnocentrism” when you choose which key words to highlight and then again when you must recall the definition with only a few memory cues.

Understanding the part Questions Play in Critical Thinking and Note taking

One way to get past superficial memorization to deep learning is to utilize questions in the learning process. Good questions reflect different aspects of thinking. There are four levels of questions including data, concept, hypothesis, and judgment that you should add to your notes either in the margins or your student page.

Data = Questions that point to facts

  • What (definitional)
  • Who
  • Where
  • When
  • Why (Where the Answer if Verifiable)

Concepts =  Questions that Use Data in Analysis

  • Describe/Discuss
  • Compare/Contrast
  • Solve
  • Structure
  • Function
  • Relationship (People of Things)

Hypothesis =  Questions that Speculate Changes in Data or Concepts

  • What if…
  • Suppose…
  • Predict…

Judgment =  Questions that Call for Critical Judgment, Conclusion, or Choice

  • Preference
  • Rank
  • Value