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Note Taking Skills

Guest Author - Elizabeth Stuttard

While you are taking distance learning courses you will be doing a lot of reading! There are the course notes which will be delivered online, the textbooks with their assigned readings, and the research you will need to do online. There are techniques to use to get the most out of your time spent reading. You will need to make use of the information from your required readings either to review it for recall it on an examination, or to use it in an essay you need to write. Note taking skills are essential to develop while you are doing that reading so that you will be able to make good use of the new knowledge. Just taking some kind of notes will be more beneficial to you than having to try to read through the course notes or the textbook again to find the important information in them. However, there are some systems that are used by others which are much better at helping you to remember the main points from those written materials. So what are some of the systems that people use to help them do well in their studies?

One of the systems that was developed by a university professor named Walter Pauk in the 1950’s but is still one of the most widely used systems today, is the Cornell note taking system. The Cornell system consists of a page divided into two columns – a narrow one on the left and then a wider one to the right. While reading you can take notes in the right hand column in any style you like. This can be sentences, outline form, or mind maps. When you are finished reading the chapter, you can use the left hand column to write down questions and key words. This is a fairly efficient system for taking notes. They are very useful for reviewing later and they are great when preparing for tests.

For some types of information it may be useful to make up charts and/or graphs to organize it. The advantage would be the ability to see the information in a compact form and in comparison to other information so that you can see patterns. Mind maps are another good visual form which can be useful for summarizing written materials that are related in some ways. The mind map can be drawn to show those relationships and therefore helps in reviewing later.

Of course most people know the method of underlining and/or highlighting the important ideas in text that they are reading. However, it is much better to do that in a slightly more organized fashion so that you don’t have most of the text highlighted, but just the important points. That means that you should read the text before you highlight rather than highlighting as you read. Ask yourself what is important to know in the paragraph you just read. Reading and highlighting that way also increases your concentration so that the reading has more meaning for you and is easier to recall later.

Another system which requires even more effort in the reading you do is the SQ3R system. This method was developed by Francis Pleasant Robinson in 1946 and yet is still widely respected and used today for studying written material.The system requires you to do some very active learning which is why it is so beneficial. SQ3R stands for “Survey, Question, Read, Recite, and Review”. First you must skim the chapter you are about to read looking at the headings and subheadings, introduction, and summary. After this skimming for the main points are that are being made in the chapter, determine what questions are being answered and what questions you might want to be answered in that chapter, or what questions your instructor wants answered. Next you actually read the chapter looking for the answers to those questions. When you have finished reading, you attempt to answer the questions by reciting the answers. This can even be done by writing the answers down if you like. Finally you review the chapter by attempting to recall all the key points that were made in the chapter. Using this method, you can write your questions and the answers in a notebook or you can write the questions in the margins of the book and highlight or underline the answers.

You do need to take some type of notes while you are reading your materials for your courses unless you want to have to reread everything while you are reviewing or studying for an exam. That would be extremely time consuming and all but impossible for most of us to do. The best thing is to choose a system which works for you and for the type of material you are learning, and use it consistently so that it becomes a habit for you.


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Content copyright © 2014 by Elizabeth Stuttard. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Elizabeth Stuttard. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Patricia Pedraza-Nafziger for details.

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