How to take notes the right way!
Taking good notes is a necessary skill that all pre-meds should have mastered in order to make those A’s. The way you take notes can make a big difference in the way you study, retain knowledge, and in making better grades. There are a ton of different note taking methods out there. But I’m going to go over what actually works for me and has made a big difference in my ability to succeed in my classes. I learned the hard way and over time there is definitely a better way to take notes that is more optimal. By avoiding common mistakes and utilizing the techniques and strategies I will list here, I know you will improve your grades and GPA. Let’s jump into it!
There are two types of classes to worry about: Conceptual based, and Calculation based. I use different note-taking strategies for each.
Conceptual based class:
So first let’s start with Conceptual based classes. These would include classes such as English, Biology, Genetics. Classes which are primarily about learning and remembering facts and concepts. Where there are not too many calculations involved in it. Most of these classes rely on the use of powerpoints in teaching the material.
When I first attended college I made the mistake that most students make, I tried to copy down everything the teacher was writing. If there is anything I can teach you in this article it is this. If your teacher is teaching from a powerpoint that will be posted online, DONT spend your class time copying whats on the powerpoint. It’s already online! That’s a waste of your time and energy. I repeat don’t copy down whats on the powerpoint into your notes if it will be posted online!
The reason for that is because it’s already online, you don’t need to copy it! Instead its much better to spend your time listening to the professor go over it. Often the professor helps explain the powerpoint and clarify things you might have been confused on. If you are trying to keep up with copying the powerpoint you will never hear the hidden nuggets of information the professor is sharing with you! It also helps in our ability to learn to process information in as many ways as possible. You want to see the material visually (expressed in graphs, numbers, powerpoint, etc.), hear it audibly, write it down yourself, etc. The more ways you see information the more connections you make with it and ultimately the better you are at understanding it. Once you understand something you will always be able to remember it. Don’t try to force yourself to memorize things, try to understand why! Check out my article on the power of why and how it will revolutionize the way you take science classes and make straight A’s in them. (It really is that powerful, check it out!)
So the most optimal way I found to take notes in conceptual classes is to focus on listening to what the professor is saying and actively trying to understand it and organize those concepts into your “big picture”. Have a sheet of notebook paper out to write down just the important things they are saying, anything you know you want to remember. If they write something on the board thats important, you can copy that down. But really your main focus is to just try to focus to what the professor is saying! There are so many resources online and your textbook that you can always reference that. Plus you should be creating summary notes for all of your classes once you are home anyway. Alternatively, there is a GREAT method for taking notes from powerpoints which allows you to do what I just mentioned. Check that out here! It’s super easy to do and will greatly improve your note taking for these kinds of classes. Highly recommend that you check that article out. (The best way to take notes from powerpoint slides). Okay so let’s summarize!
- DON’T copy down the powerpoint that the teacher will post online.
- Focus on listening to what the professor is saying. (Thats your most important task)
- Have a piece of paper to take down notes on only the important things you feel you should. (Or use the powerpoint technique)
- Remember to focus on understanding why rather than just memorizing facts
So in calculation based classes, we are going to take almost the opposite approach for how we do our notes. I have found that it works best to take note of all the examples and problems that the teacher does. This is important for several reasons, a few being; Problems and examples are the best study tools for knowing how to do those type of problems! And also because typically the type of problems and examples you do in class will be very similar to whats on the test. So by having all the problems and examples that the teacher writes down you will know almost exactly what will be on the test and what to study.
Now with that being said, you can do a few things to optimize your time in the class room. Don’t just be trying to copy down notes as fast as you can and wait for the professor to start a new problem for you to copy. You are not a copy machine! What you want to do is try and understand exactly why your professor is doing what they are. For example, the professor is doing a physics problem. As the professor is writing the problem down and writing the solution, you want to understand why each step is happening. Let’s say he is writing down the sum of the forces in the y-direction and he puts a negative sign in front of mg (force of gravity). In your head you would ask yourself “Why did he put a negative sign in front of mg?”, and then say to yourself: “Oh its because in this situation we have made up the positive direction, and because the force of gravity is pointing down it’s negative” Or whatever the reason / logic for that step was. You want to be asking yourself and knowing why the professor is doing everything they are as they do it. Then after you know why they have done what they did, then copy down the problem to your notes. As you copy them to your notes, remind yourself why they did each step. And after it has been copied to your own notes, add in some annotations explaining important things that you found useful to know and helpful to you understanding how to solve the problem.
Okay I know thats a lot so here’s to summarize the main process, in order:
1. Just watch what the teacher is writing down and try to understand why he/she is doing each step.
2. Once you understand why they did what they did. You can begin copying it into your notes.
3. Add your own personal notes in, annotating the teachers notes.
Here are some pictures to show what annotations look like for your notes:
Doing these annotations will help you ALOT during studying! You will remember important tips and why its that way. This could help seriously save some time during studying.
And as always you should try and combine this note taking strategy with the use of summary notes.
I hope these tips helped all you amazing premeds! I have learned over my time during undergrad what works and doesn’t. I have been utilizing exactly what I laid out here, and have literally been making straight A’s every semester since. How you take notes is definitely one important aspect to making good grades. And I have a ton more tips I want to share with you! I am going to lay out exactly how I have been doing it and give you all the knowledge, secrets, and tips I have learned that has helped me maintain a high GPA in a tough premed program. Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get free access to all our exclusive premedical advice!