It is important that your notes are complete and accurate. The best way to be certain that your notes are complete and accurate is to review themas soon after the instuction/lesson as you can while the information is still fresh in your mind. As you rewrite them you should correct any errors, fill in any gaps and add any additional or supporting information as required. 

A ‘side’ benefit from rewriting your notes is that it reinforces the information helping you to remember and recall it more effectively. 

Rewriting your notes method 

  • re-read your notes two or three times before beginning to rewrite them, so that you have the ‘big picture’ in your mind 
  • re-write your notes in format that shows the connections and relationships between topics, concepts and key terms 
  • ensure what you have written makes sense and you understand it 
  • ascertain that the information you wrote in your notes is consistent with any corresponding information in supporting textbooks 
  • look for additional sources of information that will give you greater insight
  • consider changing any abbreviations and symbols into complete words and statements 
  • highlight the most important words and concepts 
  • make a note of any questions you think you may need to ask in order to clarify or expand your thinking 

This is all very well, but, what you really need is a way of taking really effective notes at the time rather than having to re-write them. The two main ways you can do this are by using the Skeleton Prose and Cornell Note Taking Methods. 

Skeleton prose 

This is the most common form of note taking. Notes are structured as a sequence of numbered points and paragraphs, with headings and indentations which resembles an essay plan. It is a useful technique for books or articles where arguments are static and built up slowly and sequentially. 

The negatives of a skeleton prose are that they: are difficult to add to or amend do not indicate the relationship or connection between different parts of the argument easy to fall into the trap of coping text verbatim 

The Cornell note taking system 

This method of note taking was devised for students at Cornell University in the USA and has been publicised through Walter Pauk’s books on study skills for University education. 

It provides you with a structured, common-sense way of making sure that you take clear notes, engage with them actively and have accurate material from which you can study or revise. It prevents you from having to laboriously recopy your notes when revising or studying – a so called ‘do it right first time’ method.

The advantages 

The advantages and benefits of this note taking method can be summarised as: 

  • it provides a clear set of condensed key ideas you are able to engage with the material which helps recall that information at a later date your notes provide an invaluable resource when preparing for and revising for exams or further study

The method

 Prior to revising/making notes: 

  • on a A4 sheet of paper create a summary space along the bottom
  • draw a vertical line through the remaining sheet so you have 2 sections – the left hand side being a third of the space of the right
  • label the left section keywords & questions
  • label the right section notes

Consider having these sheets pre-printed as a blank template so can always have with you, or as an electronic document, for example word or pages. Additionally you can do any pre-reading around the topic under consideration / discussion. 

During revising/making notes

  • record your notes in the right hand column – you are not aiming to write everything, but rather arguments, general ideas, facts etc.
  • if you use abbreviations ensure you can recall these after the event
  • leave spaces so you can add to your notes or amend then afterwards

Once completed and preferably within 24 hours: 

  • read through your notes and add or amend anything
  • produce a summary in the space you created along the bottom of the page
  • write down key words and ideas in the left and column and turn these into a set of questions
  • cover up your right hand column notes and test yourself as to how well you can answer the questions you composed