How to take great notes (and actually remember them)

Were you less than impressed with last semester’s exam results?

In the first year of my degree I would stock up on nice new stationery and spend so much time organising and re-organising my lecture and study notes that there was very little time left for actual study. After going into my contract law exam with only half my exam notes prepared and relying on printed lecture slides for the rest of the course content, I knew that I needed to change.

My biggest problem was getting into a note-taking routine and sticking to it. As boring as it sounds, it really is essential to begin taking notes from the first week of the semester. Creating a study timetable is a great starting point. Include all of your commitments such as sport, part-time work, lectures, family dinners, etc. Determine the times that you are most productive each day and make sure to dedicate these times to study. For example, I study best from 9am-12pm and again from 4pm-6pm. I tend not to plan study outside these times as I know I will be unproductive and probably end up watching Netflix for hours.

I take notes on the set readings using the SQ3R approach. This involves the following steps:


I skim through the topic and briefly look at the review questions and any cases or legislation.QuestionI think about what information I need to get out of studying the topic.


I focus on one topic at a time and highlight key concepts, cases and legislation so that I am actively processing the information. If you're an auditory learner it may help to read out loud, so long as you are not in the silent section of the library!ReciteNext, I summarise the highlighted parts of the text in my own words. If I don't understand anything I've just read I use my legal dictionary (free versions can be found online), Westlaw summaries of cases or Google to supplement my knowledge.


Spend 10 minutes reviewing the content from the previous 50 minutes of study. It is tempting to skip this step, but it really is necessary. If you don't believe me check out Ebbinghaus' Forgetting Curve and you will be horrified at the rate we forget information.This approach means that instead of frantically scribbling in lectures, I can instead focus my attention on really listening to the lecturer. After class I combine anything I've written during the lecture with the notes I've already made.While I find this approach to be the most effective way to take notes, it isn't the most efficient. If this sounds too time consuming, the alternative is doing the readings after class. Instead, print out the lectures slides before class and take thorough notes in the lecture. After class, do your readings and add anything that was missed in the lecture. The downside with this technique is the risk that you will miss an important concept that wasn't discussed in the lecture.At the end of each week or topic, review your notes using flash cards, mind maps, flow charts, summaries or whatever works best for you. Whichever method you choose, the main thing is that you should begin preparing your notes in the first week of the semester to avoid cramming in the days leading up to the exam.

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