Basic Advice On Taking & Using Notes


On class evaluations, students often say that they would tell their friends that an essential part of doing well in Dr. Korcz's classes is taking good notes. But unless you know shorthand, you'll never get everything down word for word. The following are some basic tips for taking good notes:

Actually take notes in class.

Do not rely on websites that allow anyone to upload their notes, create quizzes, etc. They are unreliable, and the time and effort you think you are saving is exactly the time and effort you need to put in to get something useful out of your classes.

What you absolutely need to write down:

1. The arguments and objections to them (I'll identify these as such when I give them in class).
2. Definitions of viewpoints, terms, etc.
3. The outline I give in class.
4. Examples and illustrations of main points.

Take notes actively.
This means trying not to become a human tape recorder. Things you can do to avoid this dreadful fate:

1. If there is something that we have finished discussing, but you feel you don't understand, write a big "?" next to it as a reminder to either find it in the text or ask your professor about it.
2. If you think a claim we discuss is mistaken, identify it some way (e.g., write a big "!" next to it) and try to jot down what you think is wrong with it. This serves as a reminder to go back and think about it later.

In either of the above cases, you have a good question to ask the professor! Ask!


Make up your own abbreviations for key names or terms. Some examples:
"Des." = Rene Descartes
"R." = Bertrand Russell
"arg." = argument
"obj." = objection
"Util." = utilitarianism, utilitarian, utility, etc. (it should be clear from the context of what you have written which is meant).
"w/" = with

To make sure you don't forget which abbreviations stand for what, write out the abbreviation and what it stands for at the top of the page.

Re-read some of your notes every day!
The more you study when you don't absolutely have to, the less stressful and difficult studying for the test will be later. Identify and try to figure out things you don't understand, and memorize those you do. If you were every day to take just one item (definition, argument, etc.) from class and memorize it, you will have already memorized perhaps one third to two thirds of the material you need to study for the test.

If you have a few spare minutes before class, you have enough time to read through your notes from the previous class. Knowing what we were talking about the previous class will help keep you from feeling lost when we continue our discussion.

Put the cell phone away!

Research on the topic consistently shows that while college students tend to be convinced that texting, checking Facebook, etc., during class does not hurt their grades, it actually does. Students who play with their cell phones in class regularly get lower grades on assignments and have lower GPAs than those who avoid cell phone use during class.

Additional Resources
John N. Gardner and A. Jerome Jewler, Your College Experience: Strategies For Success, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth: 1992), Chapter 4.

Effective Note Taking - a more detailed orientation from Ohio University.

Five Methods of Note-Taking - use the one that works the best for you