Four Methods of Taking Notes

The following are presented in reverse order of value:

  1. Word-for-word: Very few people can or need to take full dictation.
  2. Selective dictation: Using this method, the student listens much more than he writes. From time to time, the professor’s most emphatic statements are taken down verbatim in a homemade shorthand like this: “Fr. time to t, prof’s mst emftc st-mcs are tkn dn verbatim in a hm-mde shrthnd … .” (You would fill in the words during a lull.) Evaluation: This system leaves big gaps: (1) There is no visible organization or outline when you review these notes. You cannot fit the statements into their proper place in the whole. (2) It is too hard to tell, at the time, whether or not a statement is worth taking down.
  3. Headings and Striking Statements: This is the familiar “indented
    outline” which is well developed in most high schools. It gives a logical space relationship on paper. Main headings begin at the extreme left, while subordinate headings are indented to the right in units of about half an inch as they decrease in importance. Essentials stand out. Evaluation: This is a fine technique for taking lecture notes except for two weaknesses: (1) You are entirely dependent upon the teacher’s indication of these headings verbally or on the board (or in some other way), and (2) a whole block of subject-matter may be omitted for lack of time, or due to oversight. If the professor wanders away from the sequence, you’re lost, particularly if he remembers how important that block is, when he’s constructing the exam.
    All of the above methods result uneconomically in two sets of notes: your lecture notebook and the notes you take while reading the textbook. A single, combination notebook is more sensible; here is how it works:
  4. The Prior Outline Method, filled in during class: This is a set of notes begun before you go to class by outlining the textbook assignment. Upon reaching class, you simply enter the lecture material in the appropriate places in your outline.The prior outline consists of major and minor headings, with further subordinate headings, as time allowed during preclass preparation. But its main feature is the allowance of a great deal of blank space between headings to use during lecture and discussion. Give yourself plenty of space. One assignment may deserve four or five sheets in the prior outline method. Paper is cheap; time is not!Evaluation: By all odds, this is the finest possible method. In the end, despite the abundant blank space allowed (which may never be filled, but who cares?), this system saves having two sets of notes, with the resultant loss of time taken in referring back and forth between two sets.

Even if your past training leads you to economize on paper, a little reflection on the cost of your total college expenses to you, your parents, alumni, and taxpayers in a tax-supported school will show that paper is the cheapest, yet the most valuable, part of your educational expenses. Count on using at least a ream (500 sheets) per term for notes and for study paper.

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