Do you really need all the information relayed in a lecture? Of course not, but how do you determine what is relevant and what is going to crowd out any relevant information? What gems were overlooked as a result of poor note-taking? Have you heard of active note-taking? No, neither have I…until today. But it makes perfect sense.
Apparently active learning helps you to prize meaning from what you learn whilst inferior passive learning is ‘allowing yourself to be an empty vessel into which knowledge is poured with no way of organising or making meaning from it’ (University of Reading, 2016). A mess in other words. Passive learning means you may forget what you’ve been taught, and you’ll be re-reading your notes while you’re writing assignments, and repeating the unenviable process when the exam period looms. Lectures might simply be floating over your head.
Passive note-taking includes:
- underlining words
- cutting and pasting from online documents
- trying to write everything you hear in a lecture
- copying slides from the screen
- copying lots of direct quotes rather than putting the ideas in your own words
- writing notes on everything you read, because you’re not sure what will turn out to be important
not evaluating or criticising the sources you use, but just accepting them as suitable evidence
Active note-taking means:
- thinking about what you want to get out of your research before you start
- looking for answers to any questions you may have about the topic
- looking for connections within the topic you’re studying, and to other topics on your course
- writing notes mostly in your own words – your own explanation of what something says or means
- recording direct quotes only when it’s important to have the exact words that someone else has used (i.e. when how they say something is as significant as what they say)
When I read this sound advice from the University of Reading (2016) I realise that when I was an enthusiastic undergraduate keen on absorbing as much information as possible, at most lectures I attended I comprehensively covered all the passive note-taking elements listed above. Knowing what I know now, the trick with writing essays and carrying out research is to be selective. It’s a brave step away from the security of hoarding dense notes, and adding everything to an assignment before the long adventure of redrafting. It’s not efficient to be a passive note-taker, and wastes a huge amount of time. With the amount of assignments that need to be submitted for an undergraduate degree, managing your time effectively increases your chances of submitting work on time and allows the requisite space for redrafting without the uncertainty of not knowing what was relevant from a pile of passively taken notes.