You’re Taking Notes Wrong
As a student of life and a student for life, taking notes is one of the most important skills you can cultivate and nurture and constantly improve. With that said, you’ve probably been taking notes wrong your entire life. Think of a time when you went back and revised or reviewed your notes before taking an exam or giving a presentation. Was it more of a cram session? Did you find yourself trying to memorize the notes you took as much as possible so you can word-vomit that information back out? It’s been shown that summarizing content with the book open next to you, or in a corporate environment, summarizing a speaker’s points while they’re speaking, isn’t the best method for retaining information. When it comes to learning new information, think of each subject as a roadmap for your brain. Initially, there’s no road to new information in your head, but as you continue to reinforce that information, a path begins to appear. So, if summarizing notes isn’t great for building a road, what is? Active recall. Well, active recall and spaced repetition to be exact.
To employ this successfully in your note-taking, I highly recommend you use the Cornell Note Taking System. I will include a template below (there is also a default Notion Template if you use Notion.) The Cornell Note Taking System allows you to ask yourself recall questions, then provide the answers in a separate “Notes” column. For example, I’m currently studying iOS development and learning Swift and SwiftUI programming languages. As I’m taking notes while going through practice problems and practice apps, it will look like this:
Embedding In Stacks
What are the 3 most used stacks | VStack, HStack, ZStack
How are they oriented | Vertical, Horizontal, Depth-based
After I’ve finished writing my notes for that specific day’s subject and topics, there is a summary section on the bottom that I leave blank. I leave it blank, as this ties into the next section.
A path is not built overnight, a road is not paved in a day. They take time and oft-repeated walks through the same area. The same applies to learning new information. The more often that information is recalled, the quicker your brain can link a path, and the easier it will be to recall that information when you need it. So, why space out the repetition then? Because of the “forgetting curve.” The forgetting curve is the time it takes after hearing new information to forget said information. We can bend that forgetting curve more in our favor by making sure we recall necessary information more often. In the template included for the Cornell Note Taking System, there is a “Summary” section on the bottom of each set of notes. The following day you take notes, review your Recall column, and answer those without looking at your notes section. If you can’t actively recall the information, then you can review your Notes section to reinforce the knowledge. Once you’ve finished going through your notes, summarize them in the “Summary” section. While this may seem repetitive, remember that you are actively trying to beat your own brain’s forgetting curve.
I’m including this little bonus section for an extra tip and a thank you for sticking around. Another great way to retain information is to teach it. I use this when I post study guides for the CCNA 200-301 exam on this website. This will make you rethink your notes and thoughts on a subject and reframe them for someone who knows absolutely nothing about it. This will also force you to correct any information that you may not be comfortable with so you don’t provide other people with false or thinly detailed information. So remember! When you’re learning something new: recall, repeat, and teach!
I sincerely hope this helps and as always, best of luck with your learning. Stay healthy, positive, and productive!
Cornell Note Taking Template (Courtesy of Notion):
Link to Template here as well, as I could not get it to copy and paste correctly onto the website:
Divide your page into two columns.
The narrower left column is for recording keywords, questions, and recall prompts. The right column is for your actual notes taken during a lecture or class.
KEYWORD | …
RELEVANT QUESTION | …
Create a summary section at the bottom.
When you review your notes, briefly summarize what you learned and what is important to retain from the full page of notes. This will help you internalize the information.
SUMMARY: Create a callout box like this one in Notion by typing /callout. It’s the perfect way to capture summaries that stand out.
Here’s your template!
Date: Oct 5, 2019