Take notes and learn now, or get them online and learn later

Today, as I sat in a physics class copying graphs from the lecture slides, I saw the guy in front of me ask his friend, “This is all going to be online later, right?” When he got an affirmative answer, he stopped writing entirely.

Even though I knew the notes would be online, I still wanted to copy the graphs. Taking notes means distilling the presented information and picking out the important parts, which implies at least some level of understanding. If I can’t explain something to myself on paper, it means I need to be asking more questions. As I’ve written before, it helps me learn.

If I say to myself, “I don’t have to take notes now, because I can just look them up later,” I will relax, thinking that I don’t have to pay very close attention now, because I can always go back and look it up later. This might work for some people (my boyfriend is one), but it does not work for me. I don’t get the +1 memory bonus from writing[pdf link] by just listening attentively. Even just from a time-management perspective, it is better for me to learn the material well in the hours I have to be in class anyway than it would be to have to brush up on what I should know already when I sit down to do homework.

Rushing to take notes has its drawbacks. It’s easy to get caught up copying a complicated graph at the expense of hearing part of the lecture. It’s a matter of being able to keep two trains of thought going at one time, in this case one for listening and one for writing. I think I’m reasonably good at this, and while I can do this with written notes, I have a lot more trouble pulling it off with typed notes. When I’m typing, I’m using my two threads to keep track of what I’m typing and making sure I’m typing correctly. Apparently, I’m only a two-threaded system, and I don’t have enough processes available to keep up when typing notes. (If anyone has any research that supports or contradicts my subjective experience, I’d love to hear about it.)

Again, I don’t mean to say that other styles are bad, only that this works for me. Even though it may seem like I’m doing more work than I have to, I believe it pays off in the long run.

  • http://profiles.google.com/amolverma007 Amol Verma

    Personally, I find that not taking notes in class and reading up on what was covered in class later works much better.

    But then, I might have a single-threaded system.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/wells1632 Jon Akers

    I had an old navy senior chief tell me something that I have sort of lived by when it comes to taking classes…

    1. If the professor/instructor/whatever says something or writes something on the board, write it down….it may be on the exam.
    2. If they repeat it, mark it, underline it, something… it has a much higher chance of being on the exam.
    3. If they repeat it again, circle it, star it, highlight it in marker, draw unicorns around it, whatever… IT IS GOING TO BE ON THE EXAM.