Taking Notes in English – Part 6 of 7: Review, Revise and Preview Lecture Notes

I’ve so far posted on what tools to use, verbal cues, non-verbal cues, note-taking systems, and shorthand (abbreviations and symbols) for my series on note-taking. What follows is part six, which is about how to revise, review, and preview your notes. Let’s get started!

If you actively take notes during a lecture, that process in itself is a form of learning. But when most people think of note-taking, they think of doing it for the purpose of review at a later time, such as before an exam, right? While it’s true that reviewing your notes is very important, did you know that the best time to review your notes is within 24 hours after taking them?

Reviewing your notes as soon as possible after a lecture is considered a “best practice.” If you don’t do this, your retention, which is your brain’s ability to remember, will drop sharply.

Some people benefit from rewriting or recopying their lecture notes. However, if you do this, making sure you’re actively thinking about your notes while doing it is really important. If you just copy them neatly without thinking about them, it won’t necessarily help you remember. But revising your notes is even more useful. Manipulating your notes by reorganizing and rewriting them in your own words forces your brain to work, and this will lead to better understanding and recall.

Especially if you used the Cornell method to take notes, you can use the margin space on the left side of the page to fill in abbreviations, add points you missed, correct errors, and write key words. Read your notes to be sure you can clarify confusing or illegible material. Most of us have messy writing when we try to write quickly during a lecture. In the Cornell method, you should have a section at the end of your notes to summarize. This is where you can connect ideas and concepts in a lecture to help you see the “big picture” which is the overall view or perspective of a topic.

If you review and revise your notes soon after a lecture, you can fill in further facts and examples while the lecture is still fresh in your mind. Working with a classmate is a great idea because you can help each other. You may have missed something important that your classmate wrote down, and visa versa. Don’t forget that you can also clear up misunderstandings and fill in missing information by consulting the lecturer or teacher, too. You can also consult with other reference materials.

As you read your notes, it may be helpful to underline, highlight, or mark main points or important points you’ll want to give special attention to when you study the material again for the exam. It might also be useful to elaborate on your notes. This means to add more information or explanations and to compare information to what you already know.

Don’t forget to practice the Feynman technique. Practice reciting the information using only key words. Talk with other students about the lecture.

If you have an exam a month or more in the future from the time of the lecture, don’t forget to review your notes in short weekly review periods. Once a week, go through all your notes again. You might try putting a review schedule in your calendar to help you make it a habit.

So far, I’ve been talking about revising and reviewing your lecture notes. What about previewing? Previewing is something you do before a lecture to prepare your brain to accept new information. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to carefully look at your course syllabus to get a preview of what any future lecture will be about. If you have access to any study guides or review materials early in the course, this will also help you to predict the content of lectures.

Another good way to preview is to simply review your now perfect notes from the previous class right before the next lecture. Sometimes the lecture may be about a completely different topic – that’s true. But often the lecture will build upon information presented to you in the previous lecture. So, if you review your notes about the previous lecture right before the next one, you brain will be better prepared to learn.

Ok, everyone – we are at the end. The most important concepts to remember are to revise and review your notes as soon as possible after the lecture, to review them regularly, and to preview them before the next lecture. The next post in this series is the last, and that is going to be all about getting familiar with your teacher’s style of lecturing.

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