Write This Down: How to Take Notes the 4.0 GPA Way

Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

Note taking is one of the most important skills that you can have when trying to obtain a 4.0 GPA or when trying to improve your current GPA. I’m not sure why, but students are just expected to know how to take notes when they arrive at college. There’s no orientation on the subject. There’s no class. It’s a situation of *poof* here’s your instructor. Now, start writing. Here are a few tips on how to take good, reliable class notes as well as a few examples of my own lecture notes. Apparently, I’m a pack rat.

1. Always put the date and class title at the top of the paper unless you use separate notebooks for each class. Using different notebooks for each class is one of the easiest ways to keep your notes organized, but it might not be feasible for the student on a budget. You can also take notes on your laptop, if you prefer. However, considering my history with computers crashing and erasing my documents, I’ve steered away from taking notes on a computer.

2. Organize your notes so that they are in a bullet format with headings. In the picture below, I have my notes in bullet format (which I’ve found works best). I have the general heading for something such as “judicial system – U.S.,” and under that heading I have bullets describing the concept. If there are any other details, I indent the bullet under the item that it describes, such as the bullet “usually counties” under “district courts.” This system will help you to keep your ideas organized in a logical and easily understandably fashion.

A bullet point method is one of the most efficient ways of taking good notes.  The cute doodles are just for show. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston Notes Written By: Elizabeth Preston

A bullet point method is one of the most efficient ways of taking good notes. The cute doodles are just for show.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
Notes Written By: Elizabeth Preston

3. Listen for key phrases, words, and names. If your teacher mentions a term, name, date, formula, graph, etc. from the reading, you can bet that it’s important and will probably show up on the test.

4. Write down the definition, significance, and an example for major concepts, important names, graphs, and tables. Exams will typically ask you to regurgitate such information, and you’ll thank yourself that you have it already spelled out in your notes and ready for you to memorize.

Most of the concepts and important parts are defined in this example.  Such detail allows you not to have to rely purely on your memory. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston Notes Written By: Elizabeth Preston

Most of the concepts and important parts are defined in this example. Such detail allows you not to have to rely purely on your memory.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
Notes Written By: Elizabeth Preston

5. Copy graphs. I once had an economics professor who drew a certain graph on the whiteboard. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I copied it anyway and wrote tidbits of his description of the graph next to the graph in my notes. I’m grateful that I did this, because the next test required students to duplicate that graph and explain it.

Notice how all the parts of the graph are labeled, and they are labeled in a way that I could understand.  They mostly look like gibberish to me now, but back in 2009, I knew what every label meant, and that’s what counts. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston Notes Written By: Elizabeth Preston

Notice how all the parts of the graph are labeled, and they are labeled in a way that I could understand. They mostly look like gibberish to me now, but back in 2009, I knew what every label meant, and that’s what counts.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
Notes Written By: Elizabeth Preston

6. Write down any formulas and corresponding examples. Also, make sure that you label the parts of the formulas so that you know what each variable means. I’ll admit it. I’m not naturally gifted at math. Back when I had to take trigonometry, I’d get frustrated and want to throw my calculator. Then, I’d remember how expensive the calculator was and the urge would die down. Examples of how formulas are used helped me to plug in different numbers in the same manner and get those problems right.

7. Make use of any notes your instructor posts before class. If the instructor posts his lecture notes before class, make sure to print them out, bring them to class, and write on them. Do NOT write in a separate notebook. I know, I know, some students have a preference towards keeping the teacher’s lecture notes and their own lecture notes separate. This is not the most efficient way to take notes, and you’ll be scrambling to put the two together when it comes time to gather your notes and study for the test. Don’t make taking notes harder for yourself. Use what your teacher gives you.

8. Copy what is on the board. If the instructor takes the time to put it on the board, you should take the time to put it in your notes.

9. Pay attention to the professor’s own research if he talks about it in class. Sometimes, the instructor will present his research to the class and then test his students on it. Maybe this is because his research is legitimately integral to your understanding of a concept. Or, maybe the instructor just wants his ego inflated. Who am I to say? Although, I will tell you this: I once had a professor say, “What I’m going to talk about will not be on your test, because it’s just my own research and really has nothing to do with this class. I just want to talk about it.” Then, he said (and I quote this word for word), “I won’t test you on this.” My tired brain told me to zone out, but my gut told me to take notes. It’s a good thing that my gut won, because that professor put an essay question (worth 20% of the total points) about his own research on the final exam. Moreover, his teaching assistant proctored the exam, so the students couldn’t argue with him and remind him that he wasn’t going to put that on the test. Yeah . . . sometimes teachers are lying jerks. But, hey, at least my notes prepared me for that essay question, which I got right.

10. Scratch out mistakes. Don’t waste time correcting your grammar or erasing something. Your notes don’t need to look pretty or be perfect. If you understand your chicken scratch, then you’re good.

11. Write down corresponding page numbers. If the instructor mentions a page in your textbook that speaks to what she is discussing, then write down the page number next to the related notes.

I wrote down the page numbers from my textbook that correspond to the concept in my notes.  Doing this will not only save you time, but it will save your hand from unnecessary work.  Also, notice how I simply scratch out mistakes. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston Notes Written By: Elizabeth Preston

I wrote down the page numbers from my textbook that correspond to the concept in my notes. Doing this will not only save you time, but it will save your hand from unnecessary work. Also, notice how I simply scratch out mistakes.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
Notes Written By: Elizabeth Preston

12. Abbreviate long terms or names. If I’m taking notes on dialectical materialism, then I’m not going to keep writing “dialectical materialism,” because it would take too much time. Plus, my hand would start hurting pretty quickly. Instead, I would write “DM” in my notes. Then, in order to make sure that I didn’t forget what “DM” stood for, I’d write, “DM = dialectical materialism” somewhere at the top of the page.

13. Use pauses in the lecture to catch up or to take brain breaks. Pauses are great for completing your notes in areas in which you might have missed something. Also, our brains need breaks. Do a doodle or stare into space for a moment. It may feel like you’re being off of your A game (pun intended), but with mini-mental breaks, you can actually increase the efficiency and accuracy of your note taking; just make sure that you’re not taking a break when the instructor is saying something important.

14. Make sure that you can read your own notes. It does you no good if you can’t read your own handwriting. Plus, that’s just silly.

Well, there you have it—my secrets to efficient, 4.0 GPA-worthy notes. It takes a little practice, but you will get it if you try, and it will eventually become second nature to you.

Bonne chance, mes amis!

Have any questions about this blog post, or have questions that you want answered about some other aspect of college and obtaining an awesome GPA? Do you think that I might have missed something? Write it in the comments below, and I’ll give it a go. 🙂

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