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Note Taking Skills

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Walter Pauk, a leading expert in college reading and study skills, offers the following suggestions for increasing your college success:

I. NOTING WHAT'S IMPORTANT IN READINGS AND LECTURES. In the following section, Pauk proposes a sensible, systematic note-taking method for readings and lectures. This method is based on building on what you already know, adopting an active approach to learning, paying attention to signals, detecting text organizational patterns, and keeping track of key ideas.

What's the goal in reading a textbook assignment or listening to a lecture? The purpose in each case is the same: to track down the key ideas and discover how they connect.

How do you build on what you already know so that effective learning can take place? Start off by scanning the course syllabus and thinking about the objectives and subject of the course. In addition, at the beginning of the semester systematically survey the textbook. Then throughout the course, preview each reading assignment, and refresh your memory of the subject matter before each lecture.

What is meant by "talking with your textbook"? Reading a textbook should be like engaging in a conversation: You listen carefully and then you respond. Listening to a passage in your textbook means becoming aware of its intonation, the rises and falls in the words you would hear if the sentences were spoken. When you can hear what you read, it becomes easier to do what is natural in conversation -- respond with questions and comments.

What are the components of triple-A listening? The A's in triple-A refer to attitude, attention, and adjustment, the three basic criteria of active listening. You can actively follow a lecture by adopting an open-minded attitude to what you're hearing, by truly paying attention, and by remaining flexible enough to adjust to any unexpected twists or turns the lecture may take.

What are signal words and what is their purpose? Signal words are those words that provide you with clues as to where information in a chapter or lecture is going. Their purpose is to help you organize information, recognize key ideas, and notice shifts in focus in the text or lecture.

What is the value of detecting organization patterns? Searching out organizational patterns enables you to determine how the chapter or lecture has been arranged. Once you understand this, you have an easier time following and anticipating the information.

What should you do when you spot the key ideas in a reading or lecture? When you find these ideas, mark or underline the ideas in your textbook, or jot them down in the margin or in a note sheet. II. MASTERING YOUR MATERIAL. To get you started on mastering your material, Walter Pauk suggests the following: Learning the requirements of mastery, conducting an immediate review, converting key ideas into questions, summarizing your information, reflecting on your notes, and using a study system.

What are the requirements of mastery? Mastery requires learning information for the long term, knowing it to the point of recall,and understanding how each fact or idea fits in with others you already know.

How do you conduct an immediate review? Overview a reading assignment by rereading the abstract, introduction, or summary or by rereading the title, headings and subheadings. Overview a lecture by mentally recalling the lecture and then asking yourself questions about it to fix the key ideas in your mind.

How do you convert the key ideas from your notes into questions? Whether you made your jottings on Cornell-style(*) paper or directly in your textbook, think of each key idea you've taken down as the answer to an unasked question. Write that question in the cue column of your Cornell paper, in the textbook margin, or on a separate sheet of paper.

What's the benefit of rereading your questions all at once? Rereading the questions enables you to step back and review what you've written and recall the logic you used in arriving at each question.

How should you answer the questions? Cover your notes or your text with a sheet of paper so that only the questions are revealed. Then move systematically through the questions, answering each one in your own words and from memory either, by reciting the answer out loud or by writing it on a separate sheet of paper. Check your answers simply by lifting the cover sheet. If your answer is wrong or inadequate, try again.

How do you summarize your notes? Select the most important ideas from each page of your note sheets or each page of text and combine them into a one- or two-sentence synopsis. If you have difficulty choosing the most important ideas, use the Silver Dollar System(*). Write your synopsis at the bottom of each page.

Why should you reread your summaries? Rereading your summaries provides you with a convenient, concise review of an entire chapter or lecture. It also helps you put what you've just read or heard into a larger context.

How do you reflect on your notes? You reflect on your notes by clustering them into different categories to gain a different perspective, by comparing them with information you already know, and by taking the time to explore the ramifications and significance of what you've learned through asking thoughtful questions.

What are the advantages of reflection? Reflection is a powerful tool for making newly learned information a permanent part of your knowledge. It promotes advantageous learning, the only kind of learning that really lasts. In addition, it encourages creativity and enables you to study virtually anywhere.

Why should you use a study system? A study system puts the key elements of mastery into a convenient set of steps. You can use a well-known study system such as the SQ3R Method(*), or you can tailor the elements of mastery into a customized system that fits your learning style.

(*) Dr. Mokhtari suggests the use of these strategies, and encourages those interested to read Walter Pauk’s book, which is cited at the end of this lesson. III. LEARNING TO CONCENTRATE: To aid you in learning to concentrate, Walter Pauk will share some thoughts about understanding what concentration means, eliminating distractions, and adopting strategies that encourage concentration.

What is concentration? Concentration is thinking that is focused. It occurs when nearly all your thinking energy is devoted to a single subject instead of to a variety of scattered ideas.

How do distractions affect concentration? Distractions compete for your mind's attention. External distractions, such as loud noises or interesting scenery, or internal distractions, such as nagging worries or vivid daydreams, divert your attention and destroy your concentration.

What is the proper environment for concentration? The proper environment is a place you use only for studying and use consistently. The area should be relatively free of visual distractions and noise, including music. The area should be brightly and evenly lit to discourage fatigue and prevent eyestrain.

What equipment aids concentration? Good lights head the list of equipment that encourages concentration. A comfortable chair is important as well. A bookstand can free your hands and keep your textbook in a position that encourages active, focused thinking. Well-stocked and accessible supplies help you keep your mind on your work.

What is a concentration scoresheet? A concentration scoresheet is a tally of the times when your concentration is broken. To keep score, put a checkmark on a sheet of paper each time you realize you are no longer concentrating. The checkmarks will motivate you to keep your mind on your work.

What is a worry pad, and how do you use it? A worry pad acts as a holding tank for stray thoughts that divert your attention from your studying. Putting these thoughts on paper takes them off your mind until you have the time to focus on them.

What strategies encourage concentration? Strategies that help promote concentration and reduce the chance that distractions will arise in the first place include making lists, taking breaks, and maintaining a balance between your skills and the level of the material you're learning.

How do lists promote concentration? Simply putting things on paper sends your mind a strong message: You're serious about getting work done and about maintaining concentration. If you have a written list of things to do, instead of a vague plan you keep in your head, you'll be able to move smoothly and confidently from one task to the next. In addition, if you make up a complete inventory of the study supplies you need and then run through a checklist of those supplies before you begin studying, you'll avoid the annoying problem of breaking your concentration to search for a missing supply.

What is the value of taking a break? Taking a break can help defuse the distractions--hunger, fatigue, boredom--that commonly accumulate during study sessions.

What is meant by "maintaining a balance"? This phrase means matching your personal skills to the level of challenge of a particular task. Otherwise, if the challenge overwhelms your skills, you may become anxious. If your skills exceed the challenge, you may become bored. And when both challenge and skills are low, you will probably feel apathetic.

What techniques allow you to maintain a balance and concentration? If you find yourself off balance, you have several strategies from which to choose. Find a tutor to help raise your level of skills. Study in a small group to boost the challenge of a course. Search out alternative texts that challenge you if your assigned text seems boring or that set your mind at ease if the text seems intimidating. Use programmed materials and workbooks to test your skills if you're feeling unsure of yourself or to provide an extra challenge when the course seems too easy. Finally, set realistic study goals, which will help keep the challenge within the range of your skill level.

Reference: Pauk, Walter. (1993). How to study in college. Boston, Mass: Houghton Mifflin. Source: Study Tips by Dr. Mokhtari,

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