Monday, September 25, 2006

That's a tip, kids - don't write it down

Filed under "Education."

"I hate this teacher," muttered the person sitting next to me, "he writes too fast!" I glanced over to see that my classmate (who also happened to be a roommate) was indeed furiously reproducing everything that the professor wrote on the board. I leaned over and asked him if he was at least following the lecture. "How can I," he replied, "when it's all I can do just to keep up?"

This was not a class on humanities, or history, or government. This was general college chemistry. My friend was hitting a wall that I see a lot of my classmates hitting in technical classes; that is, that it's very hard to take notes. In these circumstances, I follow three guidelines that help a lot (not that they'll work for everybody, but they should certainly be better than nothing).

Guideline #1: don't take notes. Listen to what the professor is saying, understand the concepts he's conveying. If you try to write it all down, you'll just lose the thread of the discussion. In technical classes, everything you need to know is in the text. And, you'll have homework that you have to do anyway before you fully grasp what's going on. So don't sweat it; don't take notes.

There's more to it, though, because sometimes it can be beneficial to take some notes. That brings us to Guideline #2: never write down anything you don't understand. If you don't understand it when the teacher says it (or writes it on the board), just putting it on paper is not going to help. It will actually hurt your chances of understanding other things, since your attention will be distracted by writing.

Guideline #3 is a corollary to #2, and that is: don't copy. Never write anything down that's not in your own words. You'll find that the act of translating concepts for transcription cements your understanding. It also helps ensure your notes are more concise (so you spend less time writing). And, if you follow Guideline 3, you'll automatically follow #2 as well.

I should emphasize again that this only works in technical classes, where the aim is to communicate difficult concepts more than facts. If you find yourself stuck in a history class, then by all means bring a laptop and pound away.

So, in summary:
  1. Don't take notes
  2. If you must, then write down only what you understand
  3. Don't just transcribe; translate instead.


At 12:33 AM MST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you here. Don't write down anything, try to understand instead. Like you said, everything you need will be in the textbook.


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