Fatima is an international student from Pakistan and she is studying BEng (Hons) Biomedical Engineering here at The University of Bradford. She shares her tips and methods for note-taking and revision whilst studying at University.
Fatima Hayat, BEng (Hons) Biomedical Engineering.
One aspect that uni students might struggle with is choosing a note-taking method that caters the best to them. Notes are a great tool to facilitate comprehension, memorisation and more effective studying in the long-run.
I myself, have struggled over the past year to find a note-taking system that was the best fit for me. It all depends on your subject and the most effective way that you absorb information. Too often we end up wasting time transcribing all the lecture notes word for word from lecturers and textbooks, leaving us with an inefficient revision session.
But worry not, for I have compiled a list of scientifically proven note-taking methods and you can decide which is the best fit for you! All of these methods take into account two essential discrete steps to enhance learning:
- Taking notes while listening to the lecture to improve comprehension and retention regardless of whether these notes are reviewed later on
- Reviewing notes in the future and committing facts to memory through rehearsal and organisational techniques
So no matter how neat and organised your notes are, always ensure to revise regularly to retain the information!
Probably the most effective in taking lecture notes, the Cornell note-taking method is a time-tested system promoting active recall. It’s very popular for students studying factually overloaded information and involves the division of your paper into 3 distinct sections:
Notes column: This is the space where your main lecture notes go
Cue column: Reduce this column to a series of main ideas, questions, connecting points and diagrams. These cues point you towards the most important information and help frame your thinking.
Summary: After the lecture, make a one to two sentence summary of the biggest ideas that were covered – this space serves as an initial review of the lecture which helps consolidate all the information presented above to solidify your understanding while the topic is still fresh in your mind.
Flow notes/mind maps
This method is especially helpful when your lecturers talk too fast, or if you are a visual learner.
It allows you to take notes in the form of mind maps, i.e. diagrams that visually represent the relationships between individual concepts and facts, connecting one bit of info to another. This also makes it easier to transcribe notes during revision sessions.
To create a mind map, the main concept is written in the middle of the page, from where on it branches out to expand out the details. You can use an app called Coggle that allows you to create mind maps on your PC if you prefer E-notes to paper. The computer-friendly version of this hierarchal note-taking system is called the Outline Method.
A sustainable and eco-friendly method of taking notes that is also great for keeping them organised is by using software and apps like OneNote, Notion or Google Sheets.
It is very convenient for students to constantly reformat and add on to their notes without having to waste paper as well as saving money on stationary. Notion, in particular, has a toggle feature hiding or showing content upon clicking, making it easier to separate the big picture and minute details by summarising subheadings of lecture notes. This organisational aspect allows students to dive into specific topics of interest into detail without losing the big picture.
This feature can use the Cornell Method, to test yourself on the content before opening the subheadings to reveal the answer. It also has many default templates that one can use to keep track of progress for assignments and dissertation and helping plan your revision schedules.
Morse Code Method
The Morse Code Method is an especially useful note-taking system for subjects that require supplementary reading and additional research.
In my discipline especially, we are encouraged to read scientific articles and papers regularly to keep up to date with advances in medical technology. In order to record all the relevant information without breaking reading momentum from scientific papers, the Morse Code Method uses a dot on the margin next to the writings to highlight main ideas and a line to denote the explanations of that main idea.
It eliminates the risk that comes with highlighting text; students tend to mistake recognition with recall. This method is also helpful for taking notes from library resources- because it is not allowed for students to use highlighters on library properties, the Morse Code method can be used easily with a pencil and erased after the study session.
Instead of passively reading and highlighting information, the Q/E/C method allows students to engage in cognitive effort, to strengthen the interrelation between the topics, conclusions and the facts connecting the two.
It reduces your notes to a series of questions paired with conclusions which helps to improve recall. The more brainpower it requires to recall a fact or a definition, the better strengthened your knowledge is in that particular topic. It is also an effective strategy to get lots of information in your brain quicker while staying organised, which may prove more useful during exam season.
In the end, taking notes is still a daunting task as it requires lots of time and effort. However, this hard work is the key to success.
Ensuring that you use the right note-taking method for yourself will boost productivity which will, in turn, promote a healthy lifestyle. Putting in a bit of that effort every day instead of cramming later into the semester before exams will also prove to be much more efficient.