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  • Gazala Hitawala

5 Common Mistakes that You Should Avoid While Taking Notes

Every student has a unique way to take notes which might not work well for someone else. However, often it gets difficult to judge yourself. Whether the technique you are implementing while taking notes is worthy enough? Is it serving you well? Are those notes giving the value for the time you spent making them? In the end, you are thriving to learn effectively from the notes you made. You have to make sure that the most valuable resource (time) that you are spending to make the ‘near-perfect’ notes is helping you to retain the information.

With my experience, trials and errors, I have figured out the common mistakes that I used to make while taking notes. I gradually implemented new strategies to work towards these mistakes that helped me tremendously to perform better and saved me from the heap of stress.

1. Writing long sentences –

It is common, and you might already be aware of it. Just check on yourself again! have you eliminated this error while taking notes? Probably, not. It is likely because our brain tempts to take the easy path. You are watching a lecture or maybe reading a book where well-framed sentences are sitting in front of you, and your brain does not want to put extra effort to trim it down. When this happens, ask your mind to KEEP CALM. You don’t want to copy down the whole textbook, right?

What can you do?

  1. Simple! Write everything in short. For eg., if you have to write – the nerve supplying the biceps brachii is the musculocutaneous nerve. How will you put this in short? “Nerve supply of biceps brachii – musculocutaneous nerve.” I would write it as – biceps brachii – musculocutaneous nerve. It is clear that this is a nerve that is supplying a muscle so I will omit the extra words here.

  2. Use icons like – arrows, a hyphen, and other symbols/ icons to make notes short and interesting

  3. Create tables to compare and put similar things together. It will not just make the notes short and clean but also help you to learn well.

2. No Visual Depiction –

Don’t get me wrong! I don’t want to get the artist inside you out. Visual depiction does not mean intensive drawing, sketching or copying diagrams. Even if it is a horrible or ugly depiction according to you, it will still stick to your memory. The more weird sketch you come up with, the higher are its chances to stay in your memory. Not just caricatures, you can do it by merely making cycles or charts. (Although, the funny cartoons will definitely scale it up in your memory)

What can you do?

  1. Create spider diagrams – it is a simple way to put everything together and have a bird’s eye view of the whole topic. Mostly it is done by writing the heading at the centre of the paper and then putting out branches to various subheadings which will further hold more specific information. Just make sure you don’t overcrowd it else the purpose will remain unsolved.

  2. Create flowcharts – when you have to remember any step by step process, then flowcharts are the best way to put everything together.

  3. Create doodles – it is helpful, trust me. Make caricatures or random sketches. It does not have to beautiful or perfect. It is just for the sake of your memory. You will be scared if you see how good my skills are. As long as it helps to learn, the horrifying experience is alright. ( I have shared an example here).

This is the SLE lady from OnlineMedEd which I added to my notes.

3. No extra space –

I know you struggle with this, every time you read another book or solve some questions you feel like adding notes. Unfortunately, you end up finding restricted space in your notes, where adding more content result in chaos. I have been there too. I know how important it is to have everything in one place for any topic that you are studying. Nobody wants to juggle between 5 different notebooks to study 1 subject.

What can you do?

  1. Leave extra pages in your notebook after each topic.

  2. Use post-it notes to add new details if there is not enough space.

  3. Make notes on loose sheets instead of a notebook so that it is easier to add more pages in between.

4. No Organisation –

Well maybe your note-taking system is top-notch or, you have just managed to figure out the best way to make use of these notes. But whenever you come back to review, you see a pile of pages or a never-ending notebook which leaves you overwhelmed. Revision gets strenuous when you have to add extra work to it. Your approach to note-taking, as well as the final notes, should be organised. The challenging part when your notes are not digital is to have them safe and sorted in one place.

What can you do?

  1. The Outline method – Place every main topic of the lecture farthest to the left of the page. Add subtopics using an indent to the right. Place each supporting fact or note below the subtopic, using another indent to the right. It will give you clear and organised notes. It shows the main points and also the relationship between them.

  2. The Cornell notes – With this method, you divide the page into 3 parts – draw a horizontal line at the bottom 3rd of the page and divide the remaining page vertically with the same proportion. The 3 parts of the page are for (i) Cue (ii) Notes (iii) Summary. The remaining is self-explanatory. In the Cue section, you will write cue points related to the notes. It can be in the form of questions or headings or keywords. In the notes section, you will have your notes which can also incorporate the outline system of note-taking. Finally, in the summary section, you will explain the notes, with the most crucial details, only.

  3. Create an index for each topic – For example, if you are studying viruses, the first page will have a list of all sub-headings in their order. Like, DNA virus with subheadings for HSV, Polyomavirus etc.

  4. Give page numbers – adding page numbers requires effort, I know. I never implemented that, but I know that it would have helped me more. If you have time or even better if you have a numbered notebook, add the page numbers to the index section.

  5. Create folders and Tag them – If you make notes on loose sheets, make sure you clip them together and have all the notes for a subject in a single folder. If you use notebooks, even then use a folder to keep all the notebooks for one subject organised. Remember to tag the folders with the name of the subject.

My notes with the front page having list of all topics in order. I have also added some MOST important keywords.

5. Not actively learning –

At the end, every post and blog that I write talks about active learning because it is the core of it which should never be missed. It might be challenging to incorporate active recall into notes, but I have simple ways to do that. You thought only Anki could do it? No, your notes can do that too, but it will require some efforts from your end.

What can you do?

  1. After completing the notes, create questions for the topic you finished. Skim through the notes and come up with meaningful questions for all the relevant information.

  2. Whenever you revise, you will first answer the questions you have created; if you get any trouble to answer the questions, then you will refer back to the notes. Your notes are just for reference now.

  3. Use a spreadsheet to create the questions – list down all the questions in one column and the answers in the next, or you can list only the questions as you already have the answers in your notes.

  4. Use Notion for creating questions – the toggle feature is useful to implement active learning.

Implement all these strategies from today. I am 100% sure it will be helpful and give you amazing results. If I could issue a warranty card alongside this post, I would do that too. I am eagerly waiting for you to try this.

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