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Learning at uni: notetaking

So much reading and listening – but what to note? This workshop will assist you to efficiently and effectively take notes from your readings and from lectures/podcasts.

This workshop:

Key words: lecture, podcast, skeleton, keywords, Cornell, classifying, mind mapping, highlighting, abbreviations

Why take notes?

We make notes during the course of our study for a variety of reasons:

  • To focus our attention – making notes forces us to pick out the main ideas and key elements.
  • To help us understand what we're reading/hearing. Writing in our own words what we've read or heard helps with understanding.
  • To aid memorisation – writing down what we have read/heard helps us to remember. Reviewing our notes at regular intervals will also help us to retain the information. With no reviews, we will have forgotten the information within a month.
  • To prepare for an assignment/essay.
  • To pull a course together – to show the whole picture.

What is MY purpose?

Before notetaking, be clear about your reason for taking notes because your reason will generally determine your strategy. There are three main purposes for taking notes.

Three purposes for taking notes

Click on the following purposes for more information and suggestions:

  • To be an ACTIVE reader for assignment/essay writing
  • To be an ACTIVE listener during lectures/podcasts
  • To prepare for exams (preparing study notes)

Handy hints

Adopt some basic, practical suggestions to make your notetaking more effective.

Handy hints

Click the boxes beside each suggestion below to find out more.

Write on one side of the paper only.
Head your notes with the title of the lecture/text and the date.
Rule a wide margin down the right hand side of each page.
Assemble notes in a loose-leaf folder (ring-binder) with separators for each unit; or have a separate folder for each unit.
Write with a pen, not a pencil.
Do not use capital letters, except for headings or highlighting key words/terms.
Take notes selectively.
Use abbreviations and symbols.
Use colour, diagrams, mind maps, etc.

Notemaking strategies

The strategy you choose for notemaking will depend on your purpose for taking notes and your preferred learning style.

Notemaking strategies

Read about the following notetaking strategies, study the examples and consider which strategies might work well for you.

  • Skeleton
    (Also known as Linear OR Outline method.)
    Many of us have learned to take notes using the skeleton system. This system is useful for lecture notes, summaries of texts, and essay plans. See an example.
  • Keywords
    This system uses three columns: the first for writing keywords; the second for further details; the third for supporting material. See an example.
  • The Cornell system
    This system supports the 5 R's of notetaking: Record; Recall; Recite; Reflect; Review. It is appropriate for taking notes from reading or lectures/podcasts. See an example.
  • Classifying
    This method of allocating one THEME per page is useful when researching and reading for assignment/essay writing. See an example.
  • Mind maps
    (Also known as Concept or Branching notes.)
    These are great for visual learners as they show the big picture in graphic form. Additional information can easily be inserted. See the mindmap demonstration below.
  • Vocabulary list
    When you are studying a new topic, you will encounter new words/terms/phrases. You will find it helpful to write these in the form of a vocabulary list. Write a definition, an explanation in your own words and an example of its usage.
  • Marking the text
    Most of us are familiar with highlighting or underlining words/terms in a text. Be sure to highlight only key words or phrases; and follow up with some written notes or summary. By making notes, you are more likely to remember what you've read.

Mind map demonstration

Mind maps are often used for notetaking or as a brainstorming exercise. A 'map' is created with headings, key words and ideas that interlink, showing the 'big picture' of a topic.

Exercise 1: Mind map demonstration
To see the steps and a demonstration of building a mind map, click the steps (in green) below:

Abbreviations and symbols in notetaking

When taking notes, save time by using abbreviations and shorthand symbols. There are many commonly used forms that can be used, including mathematical symbols. You can also create your own abbreviations and symbols because you are the only person who needs to be able to understand them.

Abbreviations & symbols

Print a copy of this list of common abbreviations and symbols and add some of your own to the list.

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