Note-taking 101: The importance of taking notes

I’m about to give you note-taking advice that is so common-sense, you’ll wonder if it should even count as advice. That’s because there’s nothing I can tell you about note-taking — or very little at least — that you haven’t heard already.

I bet you’re going to ask for your money back. Wait. You’re not paying anything! Ha! So you get my advice anyway. Here goes:

The secret to note-taking is — here it comes now — to actually take notes. Summarize in your head what the prof is saying and write it down. Don’t try to take down every word, but write fast and keep up. Concentrate. Listen for main points and then write them down. And write from the moment class starts until the moment it ends.

Yes, there’s some cool note-taking systems out there, and yes, you should give them a try. (I’ll put links below.) Try some of these systems out and see what works for you.

But you know what doesn’t work? Keeping your pen on your desk. THAT’s what profs see a lot of the time, and it drives us crazy. Students just sitting there staring at us (or worse yet, staring at their phones), pens motionless on their desks. I want to scream, TAKE NOTES! WRITE THIS DOWN! (Sometimes I do!) Students who do this aren’t stupid; they just haven’t gotten in the habit of listening for important concepts once they enter the classroom door.

The point is to write, write, write. Try your best to summarize, but write, doggone it, write. And fast. Keep the pen up, the phone down, and pay attention. And take notes longhand — research shows this helps you retain information — rather than using a computer.

Here’s a couple of guides to note-taking that you might find useful. Check them out, but don’t get overwhelmed with detail. Try out a few different methods and see what works for you. Bottom line: Pen up, phone down.

Links are here:
Best note-taking apps for students – Lifehacker
Taking notes: 5 college success tips – Dennis Jerz, Seton Hall University
Notetaking basics – Lifehacker

P.S. Go to class.

“Don’t ask for extra credit!” And other tips.

Wow. Great night Wednesday with a faculty panel on academic advice for students. Our audience was student-athletes, but our advice could apply to all students.

What struck me was the uniformity among our responses. (Plus I liked the chicken nuggets they fed us.) The profs in the room came to quick agreement on almost every issue:

  • Should I ask for extra credit? NO. Asking for extra credit is asking for a favor. All of the profs said they build in extra credit as part of their syllabi. Take advantage of those opportunities, but don’t ask for just-for-you credit. Don’t do it!

    Many thanks to my fellow panelists (left to right), Professors Dennis Phillips, Andrew Wiest, Amy Sevier, and Doug Masterson, all from Southern Miss.
  • Should I visit during office hours? YES. Profs want you to come see them. Use office hours as a way to get to know your profs. They’ll know you, know your strengths, perhaps serving later on as a mentor or even writing you a reference letter or two.
  • When should I tell you I’ll be missing class? As soon as possible.
  • Should I come to class with the flu? NO. But do go through the university channels to get an excuse.
  • I want to participate in class discussion, but I’m afraid I’ll sound stupid. What should I do? ASK QUESTIONS ANYWAY. If you’re thinking of the question, other folks are, too. Ask away, and don’t sweat it. It shows you’re interested.
  • Is Twitter considered a reputable source to cite? NO. Anybody can put anything on the internet. I joked that it was ok to quote my Twitter feed (@David_R_Davies), but I was joking. Promise.
  • How would you feel about students asking you to write them a recommendation letter? Happy to do it, but only ask me if I’d had you in class or otherwise know you pretty well. And do ask me for this favor as far in advance as possible. And give me your resume and whatever info you think I’ll need about the job/internship/whatever that I’m recommending you for.
  • I made a poor grade on a paper. How should I deal with that? Go see the professor, the earlier in the semester, the better.
  • What is your phone policy? Phones in use during class are consfiscated, dropped in acid and disintegrated, and students are given a 2005 Nokia flip-phone as a replacement. Just kidding! Phone use is HIGHLY discouraged. It’s disrespectful. Man oh man, I love my phone, so I understand the temptation to check Twitter or your email when there’s a lull in a lecture. But don’t do it. Don’t. Do. It.

Hope this proved useful. It was fun. Did I mention the chicken nuggets?

P.S. Go to class.


Go to class. That is all.

I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but I have to: Go to class. The single most important predictor of how well you’ll do in school is to actually show up.

This sidewalk will take you to class.

Can you date without showing up for the date? Can you get paid for work without showing up for work? Heck, no! Similarly, you can’t learn if you’re not there. And no, you’re not going to be to learn everything on your own by getting the notes or reading the book. You need to be in class to absorb what you need to absorb.

Avoid the temptation to let any small distraction keep you from class. Don’t skip class unless you’re ill or face a family or other emergency so severe that missing is unavoidable. Do notify the prof if something like this happens and you must miss.

Go to class. That is all.

The GPA Doctor is IN

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