Trust me, I’ve been there. I would spend hours reviewing my notes the night before a big test and nothing would click, and worse, I got some bad grades on some important assignments. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about the right and wrong ways to take notes, and as soon as I changed some of my note-taking habits, my grades got SO much better. In this blog post, I’ll get into the 5 signs that you’re probably not taking notes the right way and how to remedy it. Whether you’ve been studying for hours and not seeing results, or you’re just starting to figure out your study routine, you’re in the right place. 

Sign #1: Your notes NEVER make sense when you review them

It’s been days since your lecture, and as soon as you start flipping through your notes, it's like they were written in Greek. The frustration is real. You remember scribbling down everything in class, yet now, none of it makes any sense. It's like you captured random words and phrases without any context or structure. This was a big red flag for me, signaling that my note-taking strategy was off. It took a while, but I realized that good notes should work for you, not against you. They should be clear, concise, and structured in a way that makes reviewing them a breeze, not a puzzle.

First off, start by organizing your thoughts and focusing on capturing the main ideas and key details of the lecture. A game-changer for me was learning to listen for cues about what's important, like changes in the instructor's tone or when they say, "This will be on the exam." Then, make your notes work for you by using headings, bullet points, and diagrams to break down complex information into digestible pieces. Use whatever works best for you, just make sure that all of the information is organized and in a way that makes sense for you. 

Another way to fix your note taking method is by using active note-taking strategies, like the Cornell method. This method divides your page into sections for notes, cues, and a summary, encouraging you to process the information as you write it down. Additionally, reviewing and revising your notes shortly after class can help clarify any confusing parts while the material is still fresh in your mind.

Sign #2: You take messy notes in class and never look at them again

You're in the middle of a lecture, pen flying across the page, capturing every word you hear, convinced that the more you write, the better prepared you'll be. Fast forward to study time, and those pages full of messy, cramped writing might as well be a decorative paperweight. You glance at them, maybe flip through a couple of pages, and then promptly abandon them for a textbook or an online resource. It's a cycle many of us are guilty of - taking notes for the sake of taking notes, without ever using them to actually learn.

This habit is a telltale sign that your note-taking needs a serious overhaul. The purpose of notes isn't just to record information; it's to serve as an effective study tool that enhances your learning. To break this cycle, start by being selective about what you write down. Focus on understanding the material in class, not transcribing it verbatim. Listen for key concepts, main points, and evidence that supports them. This approach will not only make your notes more organized and less cluttered but also more useful when you review them.

You should also set aside time to review your notes regularly, not just when exams loom on the horizon. This regular review transforms what might seem like a chore into an effective learning routine. To make your notes more inviting, experiment with different note-taking methods, like mind mapping or the Cornell Method, which encourage organization and make your notes visually appealing.

And don't forget to tidy up your notes after class. Taking a few minutes to clarify any scribbles, add missing details, or highlight key points can make a world of difference. This process reinforces your learning and ensures your notes are not just more legible, but also more meaningful. 

Sign #3: You walk out of class lost even though you paid attention 

It’s so frustrating walking out of class feeling more lost than when you walked in, even though you gave the class your undivided attention. It's like you were mentally present, nodding along, understanding the concepts in the moment, but as soon as you step out, it's as if a fog descends, and everything becomes a blur. This disconnection is a red flag, indicating that even you're physically present in class, your engagement and processing methods might need a tune-up.

To fix this, you should use active engagement techniques to comprehend what you are being taught. One great way to do this is being an active participant in your learning process. Instead of passively listening, engage with the material. Ask questions, either during the lecture or after, to clarify doubts and deepen your understanding. Discussion with peers can also illuminate different perspectives and enhance your grasp of the concepts.

Another powerful tool is the practice of summarizing what you've learned right after class. This can be through quick notes that capture the essence of the lecture or even a voice memo where you talk through the key points. This act of summarization solidifies your understanding and identifies any gaps in your knowledge while the information is still fresh. Trust me, future you will thank me.

By adopting these strategies, you'll not only walk out of class feeling more confident about what you've learned, but you'll also enhance your ability to retain and apply the knowledge in the long run. Remember, understanding comes not just from listening, but from engaging, questioning, and connecting the dots in a way that makes sense to you.

Sign #4: You can barely keep up with what your teacher says

Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. My calculus teacher talks so fast its a miracle I can get any notes down. y. This constant scramble can leave you feeling drained, frustrated, and demotivated, making learning feel more like a chore than an opportunity for growth.

One effective strategy is to use your technology to your advantage. I record my math and chemistry lectures (with my teacher’s permission, of course) and after class, I re-listen to it and take note of any parts where I am confused. I then dive deep into that topic, and if I still have questions, I see my teacher during office hours. This way, I’m not pressured during class to take as many notes as humanly possible but to actually LISTEN and connect what exactly is going on. 

Preparation is also SO important. If you know what you are going to be talking about in class, do some research about it first. Get familiar with the main ideas or concepts so when you learn about it in class, you are reenforcing the concepts you have already learned, head start, making it easier to follow along during the actual lecture. This background knowledge helps you understand and connect new information as you learn about it in class. 

Remember, the goal is not to capture every word but to understand the concepts being taught. By implementing these strategies, you can transform your learning experience from a frantic race to a more manageable, engaging, and ultimately rewarding journey.

Sign #5: You only have one set of notes per lecture

Relying on just one set of notes for each lecture can significantly limit your understanding and retention of the material. You might get the main points, but its oftentimes the smaller details that you just HAVE to have for a deep understanding. Plus, those small details are usually what show up on the exam. To get the most out of your notes and your classes, here's a strategy to enhance your note-taking process:

After each lecture, take some time to review your notes. During this review, add in extra details from the textbook or lecture slides, clarify any points that were not fully clear during the lecture, and annotate your notes with your own thoughts or questions. This step helps reinforce what you've learned and fills in any gaps in your notes.

You should also try using different types of note-taking. For example, diagrams, charts, and mind maps can help visualize complex information and relationships between concepts. If you prefer digital notes, many apps and software tools offer features for organizing and formatting your notes in a way that enhances your study process. Notability is a personal fav of mine, but many people seem to love Goodnotes. It’s a great tool if you are an iPad lover like me!

Transform passive note-reading into an active review process. You can create flashcards for key terms, write summaries of the lecture content in your own words, or teach the material to someone else. Grab an unassuming friend in the hallway and brain-vomit everything you just learned. These activities engage different parts of your brain, helping to solidify your grasp of the material.

You should also make it a habit to go over your notes on a regular basis, not just before exams. Every night, set aside a solid 10 minutes to review your notes and try to remember key concepts or themes within the subject. I do this every night for my Latin homework and vocabulary and I have retained so many more grammatical rules and concepts! 

Final Thoughts

Wrapping this up, let's be real: switching up your note-taking game might seem like a minor tweak, but trust me, it's a total game-changer for your grades and your sanity. We've dived into the whole spectrum of note-taking woes, from notes that make zero sense to the mad dash of trying to jot down everything your teacher says. The gist? It's all about making your notes work smarter, not harder for you. From tidying up your note-taking act with clearer, more structured notes, to getting actively involved in your learning process, and mixing up your note styles to keep things fresh—these strategies are your ticket out of the study struggle bus. It's about quality over quantity, folks. Implement these tweaks and watch as studying turns from a dreaded task to something you've actually got a handle on. So, let's roll up those sleeves and transform those scribbles into something that's not just going to boost those grades but actually make sense when crunch time comes. Here's to making those notes a powerhouse of knowledge that gets you through the finish line with way less stress and way more success.

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