Best Practices for Notetaking in High School and Beyond

Note-taking is an essential skill for post-secondary students to have, no matter what they study or major in. Unfortunately, however, many students arrive at college or university without knowing how to properly take notes. They’re thrown headfirst into the water without knowing how to do a basic breaststroke. This is because their high school teachers don’t teach them how to swim. 

In high school, students learn how to copy the notes their teachers transcribe on the blackboard. Few students, however, are taught how to do more than merely copydown what’s on the blackboard. 

Some of the more fortunate high school students taking online grade 12 courses in Ontario have teachers willing to teach them the best note-taking methods and deliver lectures like post-secondary professors, preparing them to take effective notes when they make it to the college and university levels. But these students are the exception, not the norm.

Why aren’t high school students taught the best practices for notetaking when they are taught how to do calculus, scan a poem, and even throw a shotput? Tough to say. Maybe it’s a matter of tradition, maybe the school system assumes notetaking is so straightforward it doesn’t need to be taught. 

Regardless, note-taking should be taught. To that end, here are 2 best practices for notetaking in high school and beyond.

#1 Don’t Write Down Every Word

Notetaking is not the same as transcribing, and although it may be tempting to write down everything your instructor says, or as much of it as possible, especially if it’s interesting, it’s not in your best interest to do so. When you transcribe, you don’t process and analyze what you’re hearing. 

In other words, transcribing is a passive activity, whereas notetaking is active. When you take good notes, you listen intently to what your instructor is saying, jot down key points as well as questions you have, and write down these points and questions in such a way that you will be able to return to them later and know exactly what they mean. 

Another tip: take notes by hand, the old-school way. It’s better for your memory and brain.

#2 Use Shorthand

At some point along the way, students stopped learning how to write in cursive. That’s unfortunate, as writing in cursive is faster and more efficient than writing in block script. If you know how to write in cursive, congratulations. If you don’t, consider using shorthand. 

Instead of writing “and,” for instance, write “&.” Instead of writing “with,” write “w/.” If you’re in a course where the same terms crop up again and again, create your own shorthand for these terms. In philosophy class, for instance, you’ll probably come across terms like “objective,” “subjective,” “existence,” and “ontology.”  You could shorten these terms by abbreviating “objective” and “subjective” to “obj” and “subj,” “existence” to “E,” and “ontology” to “ont.” 

More, instead of writing down the long names of German philosophers like “Schopenhauer” and “Heidegger,” write “Schop” and “Heid.” If you have a particular fondness for a philosopher, give them a pet name or even an emoji. “Descartes,” for instance, could be abbreviated to “<3.” 

Remember, your notes are for your eyes, so all you need to worry about is whether your notes make sense to you, not anyone else. 

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