How to take notes as a pro and get those marks you want

By University of Waterloo Modified on November 05, 2018

The only thing that’s worse than studying for an exam is studying for that exam with poor notes.

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As a current university student, I’ve found the only thing that’s worse than studying for an exam is studying for that exam with poor notes.

Taking notes is something a lot of students dread, but it can actually be really fun (and crazy helpful)! Here are a couple tips that can help make note-taking enjoyable, while still being effective.

Having the right attitude

Taking notes is not something you need to dread. It's actually one of the most popular and successful methods for retaining information. That's why if you can change your perspective to focus on the benefits of note-taking, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a pro note-taker! If you look at taking good notes as an opportunity to facilitate your learning rather than an obligation, it changes your mindset from a negative to a positive.

When you have the right attitude, I find it easier to pay attention. I'm listening to what the professor is saying so I can write down what's really important and not just every word they're saying.

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Finding a note-taking style that works for you
During my first-year human anatomy course, as I was copying my notes from the lecture into my course notes, I noticed something particularly unique. One of my classmates had decided to draw on her arm to help her memorize the muscles in the forearm. Although I was slightly confused at the time, she no doubt ended up memorizing the forearm muscles in no time.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you need to draw on your arm to study anatomy, but I do think you should find what works for you. Whether it’s discussing notes with a friend, developing your own short form, or re-writing notes to really remember the content taught in class, doing whatever works for you will help you become a pro note taker.

Tailoring your notes for different classes
There are different techniques you can use to help you remember something that you learned in class. Classes like cell biology, physiology and anatomy require mostly memorization, so something I really enjoy doing is discussing notes I took in class with a friend. I’m a strong believer that teaching the content to your friend is an indication of really understanding a concept.

For other classes that entail more problem solving and analytical skills like chemistry, physics, or math, I suggest taking notes of simple rules that can help you with solving problems and then trying practice questions that vary in difficulty and scenarios.

The Bottom Line
A lot of students dread taking notes in class, but doing it in a way that puts you in control and allows you to learn at the same time can be both rewarding and fun!

written by Nathan, University of Waterloo student ambassador