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Note-Taking Tips for Students: Achieve Academic Success

“If you aren’t taking notes, you aren’t learning” -Ben Casnocha

Student takes notes in class in Singapore

Here is the much-awaited Rule 6 from MindWork's 8 Rules for Academic Success series, designed to be the game manual and cheat sheet you need to succeed in school in Singapore and surpass everyone else.

If you haven't already, be sure to read Rule #1, Rule #2, Rule #3, Rule #4 and Rule #5! Subscribe to MindWorks Blog to receive email notifications when a new educational post is published!

Rule 6 is one many students miss because it requires continuous effort. However, most top performers in Singapore can be sure of following this simple advice:

Take notes in class.

Think about this:

In class, when the teacher emphasizes the difference between atomic number and proton number, how many students actually write it down?

Very few.

notebook and pen

This is because we are used to the traditional lecture style of teaching where the teacher talks and students listen passively. This is an example of an invisible life script or belief that influences our behaviour.

There are many other seemingly logical life scripts or beliefs to not take notes during class:

  1. The information is available elsewhere/ everywhere.

  2. I do not have enough time to take notes.

  3. Since my notes do not look perfectly organised, I won't be able to study them later anyway.

  4. I can just read chapter summaries or online flashcards to revise instead of looking at my notes.

How many of these do you identify with?

However, have you stopped to consider whether these beliefs are actually founded in truth?

Firstly, despite information being accessible to everyone, everywhere through the internet,

"handwritten notes are a powerful tool for encrypting embodied cognition and in turn supporting the brain’s capacity for retrieval of information" (Roessingh, 2020).

Moreover, you can refer to your notes faster if you have written your notes yourself and are familiar with them. As you can see, taking notes aids us greatly in retaining and retrieving information, and isn't merely an information recording method.

Student takes notes on a file in the library

Next, it is true that teachers speak faster than our ability to transcribe their speech by hand. A lecturer typically speaks 200 words per minute (wpm) and we can only write about 25 wpm. As a result, students find that they cannot catch up with the teacher and miss some parts of the explanation or cannot concentrate long enough to take down everything the teacher says.

However, this is actually to your benefit!

Research by Bohay et al. (2011) suggests:

Note-taking increases the degree to which a person attends to the text, noting which ideas need to be jotted down and which are better left unnoted. Thus, by more actively engaging the reader with the material to be learned, note-taking may improve memory over conditions when no notes are taken.

So how can we use note-taking to our advantage?

private tutor in Singapore takes notes on post it notes

Here are some tips for taking excellent notes that will aid attention, recall, and understanding:

1. Don't feel the need to write down every word.

Use abbreviations, symbols, and whatever shorthand that feels comfortable to you. If you want some inspiration for creating your own shorthand or want to refer to a guide of commonly used standardised abbreviations and symbols, click below to download the University of Adelaide's Note Taking Abbreviations guide:

Download PDF • 332KB

2. Make mindmaps.

Mind maps allow you to translate pages of information into a single page containing keywords and relevant concepts, showing clear links between key ideas. Presenting such complex information visually helps our brains to retain information easily, especially if you are a visual learner.

Do you know what is your learning style? Click here to read about the different learning styles, take a quiz to find out what kind of a learner you are and receive personalised tips for improving concentration and recall!

Student in Singapore makes a mind map using an app on her laptop

Other than aiding recall, one of the great things about mindmaps is that making it simultaneously employs both the right brain through the usage of colours and visual clues and the left brain through connecting concepts logically. Because mindmaps are so effective, here is a quick guide for how to draw mindmaps:

  1. Draw an image or write the heading at the centre to represent the central idea of the topic.

  2. Draw thick branches to express the few other main ideas of the chapter. You may use different colours to represent different ideas or branches.

  3. Note down the keywords or key concepts in smaller branches extending out from a big branch.

  4. Draw images or lines to connect related concepts.

Here is an example of Tony Buzan's mind-mapping structure as employed by ThinkInsights:

Tony Buzan's How to Mind Map infographic

With these new techniques, taking notes will be a breeze for you!

Depending on the time, content and purpose, different note-taking strategies such as linear note-taking, mind-mapping etc can be deployed. You should not be limited by using only a certain type of method. Instead, use whichever method would suit the purpose better.

Here is a table comparing various popular note-taking methods:

table showing features, advantages and disadvantages of different note-taking methods

By taking notes effectively, you will no longer have to panic when the teacher says that the entire book will be tested. Nor will you have to be worried about reading hundreds of pages for each subject. There is also no need to ask what the important concepts for each chapter are before the exam, simply because these have all been condensed into a few pages of notes making it easy, efficient and effective to revise.

Study with a Mentor!

private tutor and student work through a GCE O level geometry mathematics problem together in Singapore

If you are still looking for more ways to set yourself apart from the hundreds of other hard-working students, or if you would like personalised and in-depth help in your lessons, consider getting a private tutor. A one-on-one home tutor can be difficult to find in Singapore since the best ones face high demand, which is why MindWorks is here to help you. Fill this simple form to request a tutor now! This might be just the help you need to bring you closer to attaining your academic goals.

Happy Learning!

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