How to take notes | Science-based tips for perfect grades (2023)

I spoke at length about how spaced review with active recall is a critical component of achieving excellent results in school. We saw how to create goodAnki cards, which is rarely done right, even by experts in popular science studies, but more fundamentally, how to take good notes. I'll show you how.

Getting good grades, whether from class or your textbook, is nuanced and messy. It's one of the reasons I stopped taking notes for so long. In contrast to many other components to be examined, for examplememory techniques, of course, taking notes does not fall under a straightforward and simplified process.

To regularly take useful notes, you need to be adaptable in your approach and adjust it based on several variables such as: B. the content you study, the teacher you teach, and a few other factors. Let's begin.

Basics for notes

First, what is the purpose of notes? This may seem obvious, but it is this fundamental question that many students stumble over. You should not take notes to copy literally to the teacher or to the textbook. This is the most common crime. Rather, notes are a tool used to facilitate understanding, memorization, and more effective further study.

You can think of grades as two separate steps: process role and product role.

The process function refers to the fact that taking notes while listening to a lecture improves your understanding and retention, whether or not you review those notes. Product function refers to the ability to review notes in the future and memorize facts through rehearsal, organization, or elaboration.

With that in mind, how are we supposed to decide what kind of device to use when taking notes?

When writing in a notebook, you lose much of the convenience of storing or searching files digitally or being able to quickly insert images. When you write on a computer, you can't draw easily or you're vulnerable to distractions like social media or instant messaging.

Beside,Müller e Oppenheimer em 2014showed that typing notes on a laptop resulted in verbatim transcription of lectures rather than deeper processing of information and rephrasing it in one's own words. In short, stick less.

From Mueller and Oppenheimer's article, you can conclude that handwritten notes are better than computer notes. As always, real science is much more nuanced than black and white summaries would have you believe. Mueller and Oppenheimer found an advantage for handwritten notes over concept testing, but no difference over factual testing.

Furthermore, they only tested the function of the note-taking process (i.e. taking notes) but not the function of the product (i.e. reviewing notes). When they allowed handwritten notes and laptops to verify their notes, the handwritten notes performed better on the fact and concept tests. Founded? Not yet.

Dung and colleagues in 2012found opposite results, showing that those who used a computer to transcribe the lecture performed better on tests of delayed memory when participants could study their notes. Similar,Fiorella and Mayer in 2017showed that those who used a laptop could remember factual information better when they could study the notes than those who took notes by hand and postulated that taking notes manually requires higher cognitive processing, which turns out to be a distraction, a problem that the laptop didn't solve it. note taker

Perhaps these seemingly contradictory findings are the best to address.Luo et al. in 2018, which addressed the main shortcomings of the three previous studies. Sounds confusing? It should, as there are several conflicting results at the surface level.

Or verdict on notebook vs. laptop

With all this conflicting data, what are we to believe? Again, nuances are key and the devil is in the details. Here are the best practices I recommend based on the data:

1 | eliminate distractions

Completely turn off all notifications and switch to Airplane mode if necessary to remove the distractions of a laptop or tablet while taking notes in class. Otherwise, the benefits of using an electronic device will be sharply reduced.

2 | Avoid transcription

I type at 145 words per minute, and if you're also a fast typist, you might find it easy to literally transcribe what the speaker is saying. This is a very passive way of taking notes, and as we've discussed many times on the MSI blog and YouTube channel, active learning is key.

During the conference, your priority should be understanding the information. To make this process easier and avoid spitting, put it in your own words. Data on the usefulness of transcription are conflicting, but this is due to study limitations and generally poor annotation strategies in studies.

3 | Use pictures and numbers

Regardless of the medium you use to take notes, make it a priority to include relevant images and numbers. With handwritten notes, you can draw them yourself. With a laptop or tablet, you can take a photo or screenshot and paste it directly into your notes, which brings us to the last point.

4 | Use um tablet

Traditionally, we wanted to type or write in a notebook on a laptop, but each system has significant disadvantages. As we enter a new decade in 2020, tablets are cheaper and more accessible than ever, allowing for the best of both worlds: the convenience of digital writing and note-taking with the ability to draw and annotate.

When I was at school, I went with aiPad Proswindlerapple pencil, but even a basic $300 iPad will get the job done. Windows can consider Microsoft Surface. If you have another suggestion, please share it with the rest of us in the comments below.

Application-wise, I highly recommend Notability or OneNote, as they both allow for a flexible system for drawing, writing, and importing images or PDFs that you can annotate. I used to use Evernote and Apple Notes, but their drawing capabilities are too restrictive. And while I love Notion, the lack of drawings or notes slows it down when it comes to taking notes in class.

Methods for taking notes

Now that we have the basics down, how can we use notes more effectively? The first step is to take good notes.

Die Cornell-Methode

Cornell Notes follows an intelligent structure that facilitates active learning and memorization. On the left, write keywords or questions that you will test yourself with later. On the right, you write your notes in a traditional nested outline format. Below, write a summary of the information on the page.

While you mean well, I don't recommend using this format, as there are much better ways to incorporate active learning and retrieval into your daily learning, which we'll cover shortly.

the outline method

The contour method is my favorite and one of the most popular methods used by medical and college students. Too easy. It starts with a main topic or idea, and if there is a subtopic related to that idea, it is indented after that. If you have another supporting fact for this subtopic, nest this point further. This allows for a clean, organized, and easy way to organize class information.

You should use this as the default access in most situations. If this sounds simple and easy, it should be. That's because at this stage you are simply trying to understand and organize the information in a way that makes sense to you. It's the next step where additional effort and adaptability are added.

Observe the interaction and reflection

Once you've taken notes, the key to learning the information and passing tests is not to review the notes over and over again. This is the stupid brute force method I used in college and it is the method most students use, leading to a lot of frustration. Instead, forms of active learning should be practiced.

When deciding which method to use, consider what makes the course challenging. Most lessons are full of facts or concepts. On difficult courses, there's just a ton of information to remember, but the facts aren't that hard to understand. Think history or psychology. Concept heavy, on the other hand, means that the difficulty is in understanding and applying the concepts. Think math, neuroscience or cardiology.

It's not one or the other, as almost every subject has a mix of facts to remember and concepts that are difficult to grasp, but some will be more fact-dominant and others more concept-dominant. Understanding how pervasive a topic or concept is will help you learn more efficiently.

overview sheets

Summary sheets, also known as compressed notes, are notes about your notes (pretty meta, I know). Essentially, you cut the fat, thicken it up, and synthesize your notes into something more manageable. Don't just write smaller. Instead, you need to make connections you missed during lectures and synthesize information in new ways, eg B. in tables or other images.

Summary sheets have gotten a bad rap in the evidence-based learning community because some studies have shown that they are not as effective. I would say that they are really very useful; Again, nuances are key. When certain study strategies are applied in a research setting, nuances are understandably lost.

For summary sheets to be valid, two conditions must be met. First, the topic must have a lot of concepts, and second, don't just copy your notes, make it an active learning process, actively trying to understand, make connections and simplify. This may not be easy or convenient, but it is expected of any effective active learning method.

In my pulmonology block during my freshman year of medical school, I scored in the top 3 of my overall freshman class. While watching the lectures, I mainly wrote down simple sketch methods.

How to take notes | Science-based tips for perfect grades (1)

Later I went home and compressed the notes onto a single sheet of paper, double-sided, that looked like this. I took a picture and saved it to Evernote for future reference in case I needed to review it.

How to take notes | Science-based tips for perfect grades (2)

Summary Questions

Short questions follow, suitable for a wider range of topics. I am grateful that my medical school provided us with objective study questions, which was my first introduction to the practice of summary questions. But you don't need someone to do it for you, you can do it yourself.

Take the cardiology block during my freshman year of medical school, one of the most conceptually challenging blocks, but also one of the blocks where I laid the curve and ranked No. 1 in my medical school. Again, I started with rough method notes, but after the lecture I worked on summary questions.

Again, this works best when it becomes an active process, e.g. B. if you create a table with two similar but different entities. Just copying the definitions doesn't help here.

For example, after learning about skeletal and cardiac muscle, I made a chart to compare them. Here is another table comparing systemic and pulmonary blood circulation. The process of making the table was an active process that reinforced the material and my understanding of it; Plus, I had the added benefit of a high-performing board to review later.

How to take notes | Science-based tips for perfect grades (3)

flash cards

Third, we have a crowd favorite, index cards. If you read previous posts about thisstudy strategies, You knowi love maps.

Students often ask me if they should create flashcards in class. I actually tried doing that in medical school for a few blocks and it's not a good idea. This is because you are creating very low quality flashcards that contain too much information, or you are testing too many facts, or not following other best practices. This leads to highly inefficient index cards and wasted effort. It is precisely for this reason that I do not recommend that you use Cornell Notes.

Flashcards should only be created after you have organized the information, understood it deeply, and made connections or simplifications in your mind or on paper. Flashcards are used to reinforce information that requires memorization rather than conceptual understanding.

Change your study habits

And there it is! This is my note-taking process that earned me a99.9th percentile not my MCAT, high grades in medical school and myUSMLE, and allowed me to fit into the highly competitive field of plastic surgery. There are some other non-grade techniques like practice exercises, the Feynman technique, and more, but I covered them in my popular post."Learn less, learn smart.“

For more learning tips, practical tricks, and strategies to help you succeed as a medical student or medical student, check out theMedical school experts blog, which comes with tools, comprehensive guides, and helpful resources.

What other study skills questions do you have? Leave a comment below and I'll consider making a video or article about it. Much love and good writing!


How do you take perfect science notes? ›

The Cornell Note-taking system is an effective and efficient way to take notes for the sciences. The general idea is to divide your paper into two-columns. This system allows you to keep your notes organized, summarize the main points of a lecture quickly, and review for tests more efficiently.

What are the 5 R's of good note taking? ›

This format provides the perfect opportunity for following through with the 5 R's of note-taking:
  • Record. During the lecture, record in the main column as many meaningful facts and ideas as you can. ...
  • Reduce. As soon after as possible, summarize these facts and ideas concisely in the Cue Column. ...
  • Recite. ...
  • Reflect. ...
  • Review.

What are the 4 note taking strategies? ›

Use the four primary methods of note taking: lists, outlines, concept maps, and the Cornell method.

What is the most effective strategy for note taking? ›

Take visually clear, concise, organized, and structured notes so that they are easy to read and make sense to you later. See different formats of notes below for ideas. If you want your notes to be concise and brief, use abbreviations and symbols. Write in bullets and phrases instead of complete sentences.

What is the fastest way to memorize science notes? ›

Simple memory tips and tricks
  1. Try to understand the information first. Information that is organized and makes sense to you is easier to memorize. ...
  2. Link it. ...
  3. Sleep on it. ...
  4. Self-test. ...
  5. Use distributed practice. ...
  6. Write it out. ...
  7. Create meaningful groups. ...
  8. Use mnemonics.

How can I memorize science notes? ›

Remember your stuff
  1. Study when sleepy. Share on Pinterest. ...
  2. Space it out. A new learning technique called “spaced repetition” involves breaking up information into small chunks and reviewing them consistently over a long period of time. ...
  3. Create a mnemonic device. ...
  4. Write it down. ...
  5. Put yourself to the test. ...
  6. Shout it out.


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