Study Hacks Blog
Decoding Patterns of Success
Posts on Tips: Notetaking
November 12th, 2007 · 5 comments
I will be occasionally reprinting my favorite articles from the early days of Study Hacks in an effort to expose the material to my much larger current audience. This was the first Monday Master Class I every published, it was sent to my newsletter last June.
Identify an Instant Replay Booth
For every one of your classes, identify a quiet location near the lecture hall. This is your instant replay booth. Make it an inviolable habit that after every class you immediately head into your replay booth to spend 5-10 minutes “locking in” your lecture notes. This process should include three steps.
- Clean-up any spots where you got rushed before finishing your thought.
- Devise a two or three sentence summary of the day’s lecture. Consider this an abstract for the notes that follow.
- Create a list at the bottom of your notes that contains the questions you can later use to cover this material when studying with the quiz-and-recall method (see Part 2 of Straight-A for more detail on q-and-r).
This process of locking in takes only a few minutes to complete. And it doesn’t require much will-power, as you’re already in a work mode (having just attended class).
Why This Works
The advantages, however, are significant. First, this extra moment of reflection cements the material in your mind, reducing the effort required later to study. Second, by producing your quiz-and-recall questions while the ideas are still fresh, not only are the questions better, but you’ve just cut out a time-consuming step of the test preparation process: creating the study guide for all of your lectures all at once.
The only caveat to this tactic is that if you have two or more classes in quick succession, you need to visit your instant replay booth only after the last of these classes. At this point, lock in the material from all the preceding lectures in one sitting.
October 17th, 2007 · 10 comments
This is a guest post written by Kelly Sutton, one of the good folks from the always excellent Hack College blog.
“Wow, you write for a blog and you are a current student! How on earth can you juggle those two tasks?”
Admittedly, I’ve only heard this question once or twice during my run as a college student. It never quite occurred to me exactly how I can handle a few responsibilities simultaneously. Then I remembered:
I bring my laptop to class.
I probably take some of the most cohesive and complete notes of my classmates. (Not to one-up them, but I’m pretty sure it’s true. But notes are personal preference. So maybe I’m not so special.) During any given class, I also usually manage to stay updates on my email, the news, all of the other sweet college blogs, Facebook, and also work on whatever project, podcast, or article we have floating around the HackCollege domain. I usually fare pretty well in most of my classes.
Is this a pure realization of the 80-20 rule? Or is it just merely the luck of lower-level classes? Or maybe LMU isn’t all that it’s academically cracked up to be?
- Don’t use an entire period to surf the Net all willy-nilly. Some professors don’t like laptops in smaller classes. Some professors also need to learn how to deliver a lecture. It’s a fair trade, really.
- Avoid using your laptop in any class that directly counts for a bachelor of science degree. Let’s face it, liberal arts courses require much less attention than your average math or compsci class. Unless your LaTeX skills are up to snuff, a laptop will only be a costly distraction.
- Don’t just surf. If you can also simultaneously work on something else, you’re effectively doubling your Average Productivity Quotient (the standard unit of productivity measurement among lifehackers). Work on a blog or organize your photos.
- Read the Wikipedia article concurrent to the current lecture. Not only does it give you a viable excuse if your prof ever glances at your screen, but sometimes you will (unfortunately) learn more from the Wikipedia article on the subject than you will in the lecture. I thought this wouldn’t be universally true, but the “German grammar” article is teaching me more than my current German class.
What do you do to not pay attention in class?
September 12th, 2007 · Be the first to comments
This article was written for Study Hacks by Russ from The Student Help Forum. It’s part of a post swap that our two blogs are conducting this week. I also recommend browsing the Student Productivity Week series that Russ is co-authoring with Gideon, our friend from Scholastici.us. Some interesting stuff…
Taking notes during lectures is perhaps the most important part of retaining knowledge throughout your university semester, but most students are simply not that good at it. They tend to focus on either writing down every word your lecturer says, and just the important points. There is a much easier method which will definitely pay off when final exams come around.
I have used this method for many months and it always works perfectly. The general idea is to write down the heading of the topic, and write down in the simplest way possible what it is about. Try to imagine that you are talking to a younger child. But you also have to remember to include all the complication information towards the end.
The reason this works is that the next time you look over your notes it may have been weeks since you wrote the information down, and you will not remember what you were talking about. Having a simplified description means that you will remember the basis of the notes instantly, and from there you can focus on the complex concepts, equations, or explanations.
While this may sound counter-intuitive, it really does work.
This method is based on the ever popular K.I.S.S idea (Keep it Simple, Stupid). Trying to keep all of your ideas in their simplest form allows you to really understand the principles rather than just memorize facts. It also gives you more time to learn the more difficult concepts.
Learning the basics is key for any student. Most of the knowledge that you will learn are just extensions of the basic ideas given in the first few weeks. Understanding, not only how to use them, but why is very important, and truly is the key to success.
Naturally there are hundreds of different methods of taking notes, but time and time again simplification seems to reign supreme. Although taking notes in an easy to understand manner does not mean that you skip the hard topics. The idea is that you take a hard concept, and re-interpret it in your own words. The use of images or diagrams can also be very beneficial when trying to convert a difficult problem into a series of simple ones.
The main difficulty with converting to this method of note taking is the mental difficulties. Some people will feel that they are leaving out important information, while others will be able to start with little difficulty. The only way to try out this method is to start today. While it may suit some students, others will find it too restricting. From my own personal experience I can personally guarantee that this does work for me, and it should work for you too.
August 9th, 2007 · 22 comments
College students know that note taking is important. Walk into any classroom and you are going see every student typing or jotting down something. But what are they capturing? And why?
If you ask an average undergraduate to describe the goal of note taking, he would answer: to capture the important information. Sounds reasonable…
If you ask a straight-A undergraduate, however, (which, in my infinite oddness, I have done many times), he would instead answer: to reduce my study time.
If you adopt this mindset, you can shave serious time from your studying efforts. My informal estimate is that for each hour of class in which you take notes with the reduced study time mindset, you will shave 20-30 minutes from the time required to prepare for an “A” performance on a test.
How does this mindset work? Here is some advice to help you adopt this way of thinking.
The Three Laws of Reduced Study Time Note Taking
- Never Record Raw Information
The most time-consuming piece of studying is processing the information into the ideas and frameworks which will help you compose intelligent answers on an exam. Raw facts are useless for college-level essay questions. To reduce the time required to study, you must try to do as much thinking and processing of the information as possible while still in the classroom. You’re there anyways, you might as well make the most of it! Don’t record what the professor says, record the importance of what he says. The only thing that should go into your notebook is processed information. When it comes time to study, your task becomes one of review, not thinking, and this saves significant time.
- Question Connections
Ask questions in class. But not just any stupid question. Don’t ask for trivial clarification, or mention a point you just thought up. Instead, probe the connections between the information. Ask how an idea fits a theory mentioned earlier. Test your understanding of why a certain scholar thought a certain way, or what factor might explain a certain event. The less sure you are of your answer the more important it is for you ask. These connections are fuel for deep understanding.
- Adopt an Idea-Centric Note-Taking Format
To aid your attempt to process and capture information in the fast-paced environment of a lecture, you need an efficient, fill-in-the-blanks format that you can rely on to simplify the decision of how to record the results of this process. As you know, I’m fond of the Question/Evidence/Conclusion format described in Straight-A. But this is not the only game in town. Use whatever works for you. I once met a student, for example, who, at the start of class, ripped out a sheet of paper to put next to his notebook. On the ripped out sheet of paper he would jot down and number titles for the big theories or ideas mentioned in class. In his notebook, he took notes on the processed information, using the numbers as a shorthand for referencing the ideas his notes referred to. (For example, he might jot down: “the increased number of plague cases helped support 7, but seems to contradict 2 and 5″).
July 20th, 2007 · 5 comments
[Originally sent to Study Hacks Newsletter on 7/2/07]
Taking lecture notes requires great speed, as professors can spew
information at a ferocious rate. This is one reason why I emphasize in
STRAIGHT-A the importance of using a laptop in the classroom – you
type faster (and neater) than you scrawl.
This need for speed, however, can conflict with the
Question/Evidence/Conclusion (Q/E/C) note-taking style. When the
information is flying, you might not have the time to write out the
full word “Question” or “Conclusion.” This problem becomes pronounced
if you like, as I do, to put them into bold face to better structure
your notes visually.
Here’s an easy hack for Microsoft Word users to bypass this issue:
(1) Type and format the word “Question” the way you prefer it to
appear in your Q/E/C notes.
(2) Highlight the text. Go to Tools –> AutoCorrect Options.
(3) The “AutoCorrect” tab should be automatically selected. In the
“With” field you should see your formatted text. Now, put the letters
“qq” into the “Replace” field and then click the “Add” button.
(4) Repeat this procedure for “Conclusion,” using the letters “cc”
Now, when typing your notes, simply hit “q” twice and press the space
bar and your formatted “Question” will automatically appear. The same
holds true for “cc” and “Conclusion.”
It seems minor. But it frees your fingers from having to leave the
letter-keys on the keyboard, freeing up valuable time for capturing
the information being delivered.
July 20th, 2007 · Be the first to comments
[Originally sent to Study Hacks Newsletter on 6/11/07]
Today, I’m inaugurating a new regular feature for this newsletter: The Monday
Master Class. Every Monday, I will present a new advanced study tactic of
the type found in my books. These will include the material I left out
of STRAIGHT-A, as well as highlights from the many interesting ideas I
receive from readers such as yourself.
The motivation for the Monday Master Class is to keep Study Hacks
connected to its core mission of exploring tips, tricks, and
strategies for making the academic piece of student life easier.
On other days, we can continue on our digressions into related,
but more esoteric topics, such as the Paradox of the Relaxed Rhodes
Scholar, and interviews with interesting students.
IDENTIFY AN INSTANT REPLAY BOOTH FOR EVERY CLASS
For every one of your classes, identify a quiet location near the
lecture hall. This is your instant replay booth. Make it an inviolable
habit that after every class you immediately head into your replay
booth to spend 5-10 minutes “locking in” your lecture notes. This
process should include three steps.
(1) Clean-up any spots where you got rushed before finishing your thought.
(2) Devise a two or three sentence summary of the day’s lecture.
Consider this an abstract for the notes that follow.
(3) Create a list at the bottom of your notes that contains the
questions you can later use to cover this material when studying with
the quiz-and-recall method (see Part 2 of STRAIGHT-A for more detail
This process of locking in takes only a few minutes to complete.
And it doesn’t require much will-power, as you’re already in a work
mode (having just attended class).
The advantages, however, are significant. First, this
extra moment of reflection cements the material in your mind,
reducing the effort required later to study. Second, by producing your
quiz-and-recall questions while the ideas are still fresh, not only
are the questions better, but you’ve just cut out a time-consuming
step of the test preparation process: creating the study guide for all
of your lectures all at once.
The only caveat to this tactic is that if you have two or more classes
in quick succession, you need to visit your instant replay booth only
after the last of these classes. At this point, lock in the material
from all the preceding lectures in one sitting.