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High School Note-Taking Skill Tips!

College bound high school students need to learn good note-taking skills. Sounds simple and obvious, but it kind of means they need to know how to skillfully scramble...and this takes practice!

In other words, they need to accurately and quickly write down stuff in an organized way as a--sometimes boring--lecturer rattles off facts and theories. It also means they need to make their note taking a consistent habit from class to class.

Today with all the different ways teachers make their lecture notes available to students through power points, videos and the like this skill sometimes goes underdeveloped. But not all teachers will be so generous with their class materials and notes. So this skill remains essential for high school and college.

Good notes are an academic treasure for several reasons. Writing down notes by hand helps you focus on and remember what you are hearing in class. Organizing them helps you organize the course information into manageable units. Having them at the end of a unit provides you with a self-made study guide for exams.

There are many options for note taking methods. One versatile, easy-to-learn option I recommend to students is the Cornell System. It can be used for most any subject and doesn't require much more than a pencil and paper. It can also be used in digital documents like a Google doc.

Take a look at the pic below to see how the Cornell System works:

The format is easy to use! It only takes a few seconds to set up, and anyone can find official descriptions for Cornell notes using an online search. Simply draw a single vertical line--as seen above--down the left side of your paper leaving about a 2 inch margin on the left. A second horizontal line creates a summary section area on the bottom of the page.

The way the system works is fairly self explanatory from the picture above.

"Cue Column"

In this column you enter key questions, terms, or topics as your teacher announces them in lecture. In math lectures, this could mean entering the name of new formula. In history class, this could mean entering the name of a new era you are studying like the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War.

"Note Taking Column"

In this column you writes notes about the entry you made in the cue column to the left. For example, if you have entered the name of a new math formula, such as Pythagorean Theorem, then in the note-taking column you might enter the formula itself "A squared + B squared = C squared" and a description of how to use the formula plus some example problems.

After each cue column and matching note-taking column are completed you can, if you like, draw a horizontal line under the entries to help visually organize information into boxes. This can help you quickly locate information as you review older notes. Some students like to color coordinate their entries as well! Bottom-line, do what you like to help better organize and efficiently locate information.

"Summary Section"

Use this section to summarize what you have entered after each session of note taking. Summarizing the info to yourself in a short sentence or two can help you consolidate your memory of the information and the summary section also helps you mark where one class ends and the next one begins.

See the example below for what a complete page of notes for biology might look like.

A few other note taking tips...

***You don't need to write down every word the teachers says. Teachers often go off-track and tell stories or non-relevant information as they lecture. Try to only enter the information you need for doing well on your exams and course work over all.

***Use abbreviations as you write to save time and space in your notes. Plus you can often omit small words and still understand what you have written down.

***Use a starring system or some other method to highlight any information that your teachers says will be important for your exams and homework.

Finally, note-taking skills are honed by consistent, thoughtful, and regular use with a systematic approach. The Cornell System and others offer a template for organizing the tidal wave of information you'll get in your courses. Students who develop these skills in high school thank themselves later in college. Good note-taking is key to managing higher level learning!

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