Taking Degree Notes

Taking good notes for your degree is essential if you are to get the best possible marks on your degree helping you:

  • Listen properly to what is being said
  • Help remember what has been taught (writing notes in itself helps you remember, even if you don’t read them later on!)
  • Provide a quick reference to a topic
  • Identify key points within a topic

When taking notes you need to try and:

  • Avoid Duplication in note taking
  • Capture all crucial points in your notes
  • Keep notes brief
  • Try and come away with notes that provide a good overview of the topic, i.e. how things fit together, as opposed to concentrating on a collection of individual facts

There is a recognised technique for note taking, the Cornell Note Taking System. The Cornell Note Taking System usually involves dividing up your page with a footer at the bottom, into which you put a summary / overview of what has been learned. Above this the rest of the page is divided into two columns, the smaller left hand column is used to write brief summaries, keywords, memory joggers / cues. The larger right hand column is used to add more detail. Thus, you have notes that are easy to scan (the left column), contain more detail / cross references etc (in the right column) and an overview / summary (in the footer section).

The Cornell Note Taking System relies on five principles:

  • Record (detail in the right column)
  • Reduce (Summarised from the detail recorded and put in the left column)
  • Recite (use cue’s in the left column to recall / revise key points. Do this shortly after the lecture, it will help you remember the lecture)
  • Reflect (Try to understand what the lecture and your notes mean, try and put information in context, you can add this information in the summary at the bottom of the page)
  • Review (Quickly review your notes every week so that topics stay fresh in your mind)
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Avoiding duplication in your degree notes is very important, as duplicated notes will slow you down when you come to use them.

Remember when you are taking notes for a degree course that they are a resource to be used over and over again. When taking notes keep future usefulness in mind.

To this end, do not duplicate notes you have already taken, or information from texts – handouts. Instead cross reference your degree notes with these sources.

Before you can take effective notes that capture all key points, you must be able to identify what the key points are:

  • Listen carefully to what is being said (sitting at the front of lectures helps)
  • Think about what is being said and try to understand why that may be important in different contexts
  • Listen for emphasis being placed on certain words / phrases
  • Look for repetition of certain words / phrases
  • Look out for the rewording and repetition of the same theme

When taking notes in lectures try to avoid:

Jumping to conclusions, which may lead you to miss key information. Treating lectures like a chore, instead treat them as an opportunity, go into them with the clear objective of gaining knowledge and quality notes. Developing this mindset helps cope with lectures that you may find less interesting.