In most classes, what is presented in class is more likely to be on a test than what is in the text. In math/science/engineering classes, you need to follow solution approaches as they are presented, or you will have to teach yourself. The key to capturing the solution approach is to record notes on how to go from one step in the solution approach to another. Unfortunately, many students just copy down what was written on the board or what was in a power point. Students need to write out how they did each problem, and all the steps to that problem so that they can go back to it later. Taking notes is one of the most important things for many reasons. First, the notes will be helpful for the quizzes and exams. They will help you to see what the teacher stresses and what you will expect to see on the exam.
Here’s an approach for taking notes in a math/science/engineering class:
- When taking notes, date each paper, label note pages in order of first to last page and place the notes in order by dates.
- Use graphing paper at all times if possible in a course where drawings are critical to a problem.
- Turn your notebook so the spiral is at the top (landscape) and draw a line down the middle of your paper.
- At the top label on the left side label “class notes.” On the right side at the top write “explanation.”
- On the left side of the line, record the problem solution approach as it was presented in class. This would be the computational steps. Make sure that you write neatly, so you can go back and read it. Put a box around your answer.
- On the right side of your notes, capture the words used to describe the logic used in going from one step to the next, it may help to number each step. Next to important steps put a star so you know it is important.
- Use the question mark symbol when there was a step that you didn’t understand. You should ask the teacher about this step during class or after class.
- Underline only the most important things. Too much underlining will lead to visual distraction.
- On the right side of your notes, capture anything that the teacher says about exceptions, special cases, etc. Often these become test material, so you may want to highlight or “star” these and the important problems.
- Also on the right side, capture notes to yourself about the solution approach. These will be reminders of how the problem was solved. Additionally, since you are writing them in your own words, this will help you understand them better.
- Make sure to label all symbols and terms used.
- Add anything else the teacher said that you might believe is important (or just interesting). You may understand it in class, but by the end of the day, you may have forgotten how you understood it.
- Have a designated definition page, and reference it in your notes.
- You might also want to try rewriting your notes shortly after class, often times, if you do this, you can follow them better (especially if the lecture is fast-paced). You can better organize your notes with more time.
- Don’t write only what’s on the powerpoints, try to summarize the powerpoints and capture key things your teacher says that may be useful for the test.
A great weakness of many students is that they don’t learn in class. They are merely note takers. If you use the approach described here, you will be using the class time to learn the material rather than having to learn the material on your own..