There are many different ways of taking notes, and the best note-taking system is the one that works best for you! Here are a few different systems you might like to try, and some tips on improving your note-taking skills.
If it feels like you forget new information almost as quickly as you hear it, even if you write it down, that’s because we tend to lose almost 40% of new information within the first 24 hours of first reading or hearing it. If we take notes effectively, however, we can retain and retrieve almost 100% of the information we receive.
The most effective note-taking skills involve active rather than passive learning. Active learning places the responsibility for learning on the learner. Research has found that, for learning to be effective, students need to be doing things with the material they are engaging with (reading, writing, discussing, solving problems).
They must also be thinking about the thinking (metacognition) involved in engaging with the material. This means that, while students are learning the content, they should also be thinking about how they are learning it. What is causing confusion? How does your thinking change about this topic as you are learning? What has worked well for you in learning this topic that you should do next time? What hasn’t worked so well so you don’t make that learning mistake again?
Studies have found note taking is most effective when notes are organised and transformed in some way or when a teacher gives examples of good notes. An effective note-taking strategy requires effort. Half the battle with students is helping them understand the reasons for needing to take and interact regularly with their notes.
Students often tell teachers they have excellent memories and don’t need to take notes because they can easily recall information. Research says this is not the case.
The goal of effective note taking is to help recall what has been learned and retain that information over time. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1895 conducted some of the first experiments on memory and recall, and spaced learning. He developed the forgetting curve, which shows how information is lost quickly over time if there is no strategy or effort to retain it.
The rate of forgetting is minimised if students interact (re-read/discuss/write/engage) with their notes within 24 hours. A second repetition for a shorter period of time within a day brings recall back up to 100%. A third repetition within a week for an even shorter time brings recall back to 100%.