I've been in a number of college classes of all kinds--from food science to art history, and while some were definitely more difficult than others, one of the major keys to unlocking success in each course was taking effective notes. Sounds pretty basic, right? Well, you might be surprised.
One of the first steps to taking effective notes is to determine how you learn best. There are numerous learning styles, so you need to pinpoint just a few that seem to work best for you. For example, I have found for myself that I learn best by listening carefully to the lecture.
Then, you need to decide what that means for you. I am not only a great listener; I am also a slow writer, so trying to take notes by hand with paper and a pen ends up being distracting, keeping me from hearing what is being said, as I am still trying to write what was said two minutes before.
Since I am such an active listener, I find it very effective for me to either take my laptop along with me to class (I type quickly without even looking at my keyboard, so I can easily pay attention while typing up extensive notes) or take along a digital recorder so that I can play back the lecture later on.
It is also helpful to combine these methods so that times when the lecturer or a contributing student are speaking too softly to be picked up by the recorder can be simply filled in by notes taken on the computer.
If you want to explore one or both of these options, be sure to choose a laptop that is highly portable. The first laptop I purchased for use at the university was extremely heavy, and it became a hassle to carry around with me.
Keep in mind how far you have to go to get from class to class and how much strain this will cause on your back to carry it in a backpack or shoulder bag.
Make sure your recorder is professional quality and will be more likely to capture lectures in a clear manner so that you don't have to try to guess about what is being said as you review before exams.
If you are the type of person that becomes easily distracted by the temptations to participate in social networking while on your laptop, then consider going the old-fashioned way: get a notebook and pen.
This is very effective for visual learners, as you can draw diagrams and timelines presented in class, making them simple and accessible for review.
It's up to you to decide what is more effectual when you need to study. You can try several different methods and see what works best in the long run. But once you figure out what works, persist in doing it, and you will definitely see success and less frustration in preparing for crucial exams.
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