Taking notes is very important when reading because it forces you to mentally process the material you are reading and because it gives you a record of what you have read. In many ways, mentally processing what you read is more important than having a record of what you read. If you really understand something you will probably remember it without needing to resort to your notes.
When you are reading or listening, taking notes helps you concentrate. In order to take good notes on a reading assignment, you must understand the text. Good note-taking does not mean writing down every word you read. You must actively decide what is important and how is related to what you have already written. Good notes should be accurate, clear and concise. They should show the organization of the text. This organization should show the relationship between the ideas presented.
Class readings are an area where many students fall behind. If you take accurate and effective notes on these readings, it may save you time in the long run. You won’t have to read anything twice – you will already have an accurate record of what you’ve read. This will be a great study aide if you have to study the material again for a mid-term or final exam.
The basic guidelines for taking notes from textbook readings are easily understood:
Read a section of your textbook chapter. Read just enough to gain an understanding of the material. Do not take notes. Your focus should be on understanding the material. It is tempting to take notes as you are read the first time, but this is not an efficient technique. It is likely that you will take down too much information and simply copy facts without understanding them at this point.
Review the material. Locate the main ideas and important sub-points. Set the book aside and paraphrase the information you’ve covered. Putting the textbook information in your own words forces you to become actively involved with the material.
Write down your paraphrased ideas. These are your notes. Do not copy information directly from the text. Don’t get bogged down by details – add only enough detail to understand.
Review and compare the notes you are writing down with your text to make sure you fully understand. Use the text to clarify anything you may be missing or having difficulty understanding.
Other tips for effective note-taking while reading include:
- Leave room in your notes to include additional information learned after reading the text. I personally read and take notes before the material is covered in lecture. I then use a different color pen to take lecture notes within my notes on the reading. I always have access to both my reading notes and lecture notes in the same document.
- Use shorthand and abbreviations that make sense to you. Make sure you are somewhat consistent when using these shortcuts – you want to be able to later interpret what you’ve written.
- If you are having problems determining what is important in the text, you can “cheat” by reading the chapter conclusion first. This step will help you know what is important as soon as you come across it.
- Make sure you record accurate source information. For any statistics or direct quotes, jot down the page number where you found the information. Only record direct quotes when they say what you want to say better than you can say it.
- Do not simply photocopy your text or underline/highlight as you read. You need to actively process what you read. You can’t get this stuff by osmosis!
- If you develop questions, reactions, or opinions on the reading material, note these as well. These are great things to ask your professor and may contribute greatly to class discussion.