Why make notes?
Because you need an information storage system.
What difference does it make?
You understand the topic in more depth.
Distance learners do not attend classes to listen to lectures; they sit at home and read from their study guides. The study guide accompanies the textbook from which students master the course. Study reading is not enough. Successful students make notes of what they have read. The notes serve two major purposes. Firstly, notes act as a permanent record of the time you have spent on a section of the work. Secondly, notes serve as the first step in expanding your network of memory strategies. Note making is the link between study reading and answering assignment questions.
When you are learning new material you have to ensure that the material is processed (encoded in your memory) in such a manner that you understand and recall it. New information is best processed if you reorganise it to suit your style of learning. The best way of processing information is to make notes. Visual notes and linear notes are the two major styles of note making. Broadly speaking, if you have an imaginative learning style, a creative, visual approach to note making should appeal to you. If your learning style is more factual, you might prefer the tidier, step-by-step, narrative approach to making notes.
Two approaches to note-making
Applications of the different methods
How do you decide which is the best method to apply? Students make notes differently, but they all manage to prepare adequately for their assignments and the exam. The most important thing to remember is to start reorganising the information to suit yourself.
Your choice depends on a number of issues, such as what time of the year is it (the beginning equals an overview to establish a frame of reference; or exam preparation equals detail to consolidate the knowledge base), your estimate of the nature of the study task (is it complex; unfamiliar; or entails many pages of learning), your learning style (do you start with an overall idea or do you prefer a step-by-step approach). The following contains some suggestions you might to want to experiment with. Starting a course means that a useful point of departure is the extraction of an overall idea of what the content is about. A mind map, cluster gram or organogram could be considered, and is based on the list of content as well as chapter headings and subheadings to master the overview.
When you are faced with a chapter or section, you could use one of the narrative methods such as segmenting and labelling, key word and paragraph method or question method to master a closer understanding of the textbook or study guide. If you first applied one of the visual note making methods, the structure of the course or the particular chapter should now be fixed in your memory. Keeping the structure in mind as you read through the chapter, and then narrative making notes, helps to change the feeling of unfamiliarity to one of knowing. You should be experiencing the "AH HA" feeling: "now I see how it fits together!".
Using both visual and narrative methods of making notes ensure that you do not get bored and drowsy while studying. Because you are using the methods interchangeably, you are able to maintain your concentration. By actively searching for meaning (your own understanding), recalling the information becomes easier. Mixing different note making methods to master your course material is the characteristic of a study-wise student. Irrespective of your preferred style (visual or narrative) the challenge of note making is centred on your ability to experiment with various approaches to study tasks and to find the most effective matches.
Buzan, T. & Buzan B. (1995) The mind map book. London: BBC Books. 320p.
Mind mapping to overview
Steps to follow
Question system - to control detail
Steps to follow
Deem, J. (1993) Study skills in practice. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 418p.
Further NOTEMAKING resources on the Internet