I don’t know about you, but in high school note taking was pretty straightforward. I would just write whatever was on the board or slides and that was exactly what I would be tested on. As long as I was paying attention I never had any problems with getting all the material down. Well this might come as shock to you, but college is a totally different beast.
Freshman year was a struggle to take notes, because there was so much information coming my way that I had 0 time to process and figure out what was important. This created a vicious cycle for me where I would just try to write down word for word what the professor said, but then I had even less room to focus on the actual material. SO, I had to develop a method to actually understand what was going on other than spending hours crying over homework sets because I was so lost.
1. Write down questions when you have them.
So my biggest pet peeve is when professors say a BUNCH of material that I am trying to process, then they go “any questions”, and THEN GET MAD when no one asks a question. I need time to go through things a second time and think about everything before I can ask a question. I know I will have them, just not immediately! So if you’re anything like me, when you are doing your homework or reading or just reviewing the material, write down your questions the second they pop into your head. That way you can either answer them yourself later or ask them to a TA or the professor in office hours.
2. Re-write notes while doing homeworks in a way you understand
I actually started doing this by accident because I kept going to office hours to ask about homework questions. The TA usually will help with “how” to solve the problem and I would copy all that down and basically make a whole new set of notes. Usually I would end up only using those notes for the class so I just started rewriting the lecture notes to include all the stuff I learned while doing homework. This always gave me a much more decipherable and holistic picture of what I was supposed to know for the class.
3. Focus more on what the professor is saying
This honestly might be the worst tip because I know a lot of people that might disagree with this. I am the type of person that needs complete thoughts and explanations in my notes, because otherwise when I go back I have no idea what is going on. That is why I transitioned from just copying whatever was on the board I would focus on the words being said because usually they were easier for me to understand. If I needed the equations again I typically could rely on TAs or my friends, but it’s pretty hard to get the professor’s explanation again without appearing like you weren’t listening.
4. Resolve the homeworks (once you get the solutions) with your notes
Okay so I just started doing this in the past year and it’s really been a game changer. Once I get the homework solutions I now redo them so I know what’s going on and annotate the process to explain it. I always struggle with maybe knowing the theory behind everything but then get stuck with procedure or visa versa. Just including basically example problems in my notes made it a lot easier for me when I was reviewing material for things like midterms and finals. Typically in class you will still get example problems but usually they are much simpler than anything you will find on the homeworks.
Hopefully these tips help, I know that made my life way easier when it comes to school!