Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Taking Notes

In this post I want to share some ways of working with course notes that I am currently using. As you all know taking notes is one of the most basic parts of studying. While it is possible to do well without it, it usually only means that you are borrowing somebody else notes (or downloading them). However, taking notes and using them are two totally different things. Firstly, handwritten notes tend to differ greatly in quality due to people handwriting and the lecturer. In my case my notes are close to being unreadable for anyone except for me (for some reason I can read what I wrote easily enough, but I have problems reading other people notes). Also, if the lecturer speaks in a disorganized way the notes become difficult to read and understand.
Obviously handwriting and organization of notes is not much of a problem - it is after all perfectly possible to take notes on a computer. Actually, if I were studying a subject that don't have formulas I would use a computer to take notes myself. Since I study math, I do not believe that I should try to take notes on a computer, although I know people who do just that.

However, the really difficult part comes when you need to go over your notes. In the first and second year the lecturers tend to give you all the material in a very detailed way, but with time they stop doing this. Instead you are now supposed to figure all the extra stuff yourself. As a result, you basically need to add to your notes on your own. So how do you do this, while still keeping the notes organized and in a format that allows you go over them easily?

At this point of time I cannot honestly say that I found a real solution to this question. But I managed to come to the conclusion that I need two things. The first thing is to make sure that I have the notes made in an organized way. To do this I make a second (also handwritten) copy of my course notes. In this copy I write all the definitions and theorems (with their proofs) with as much details as I need to understand them. This copy is later used when I need to prepare for the exams.
The second thing is basically a reference list. The idea is to make a list of all the definitions and theorems, as well as links to any useful source of extra information on the topic. It is obvious that such a list should be done on a computer. The end result is basically another version of your notes, but instead of being detailed and organized it is easily to search. This makes it easy to check any general fact you are unsure of. It is especially useful if you want to check some specific definition of the wording of a theorem. Obviously you can do the same thing just by searching on Wikipedia, but using such a reference list makes it much easier - you are able to see what you look for by just taking a glance on it, instead of searching a whole site. Also, making such a list on the computer allows (depending on what software you use) to add extra notes and to modify them easily. Since I do not want to type math formulas myself I ended using Google notebook to clip content (mainly from Wikipedia) and then edit and categorize it the way I want. Unfortunately, Google notebook is the only service I managed to find that had all the features that I wanted.

If you follow all this you will end with three different sets of notes (plus, if available, a textbook). Obviously this is a lot of work, but I feel that this approach allows me to understand the material as well as I can.


Jessica said...

I find that if I write out the notes given during a lecture, it helps me to remember them more! If I use a computer or a print out from the professor, I find that it is harder to study and memorize.

Anonymous said...

nice job! waiting for your new artical. ........................................