The Necessity of Note taking

200px-Ryanscontribs.svgTaking notes is something that students mostly associate with skills learned in a classroom – so many may ask themselves if this is still essential for home schooled students. Moreover, many may think that it is only a necessary skill for those taking formal exams at the end of their course, such as IGCSE or A- Level students preparing themselves for their exams.

However, as the OU website points out:

Taking notes can help you to…

  • Improve your understanding by making you convert difficult ideas into your own words.
  • Prepare for writing fuller, better connected arguments in your essays.
  • Be more focused and time-efficient in your exam revision period.
  • Assess your own progress as you study.

So clearly it is something that ALL students benefit from as – at least for History – all students are required to write assignments. Some of these require further reading, some simply ask students to review what they have read in the handbook. However, all require reading and thus could benefit from note taking.

Note taking makes sure that you read actively avoid  simply glancing at the text without taking it in. Otherwise, your eyes may simply glaze over and you may not compute what you actually read.

There are many useful techniques for note taking.

Perhaps the simplest form is highlighting and annotating. Remember, whether you are reading your handbook, your assignment instructions or your exam paper, the sheets of paper are yours, so use a pencil or highlighter to highlight what you think is the key information. This will later help you find and memorise the information when it comes to applying it to a set question.

Another form is mindmaps or spider diagrams. These are useful in providing an overview of a topic and seeing connections when you do not know where to start. Simply place the key topic in the middle of a paper and write down all that you can associate with it. You can then go back over it later and link the different points and write down how they are connected. If you are taking notes of chronological development, make a flowchart.

Tables are perfect for recording different views on the same topic. For History students, it is great comparing sources. Usually several sources are chosen to address a specific aspect, e.g. danger in a country. Find where the source refers to danger and record it in a table, lable it as follows:

Source 1 unrest
Source 2 Conflict and compulsion

Or you can make index cards of a topic, writing the key term on the front and on the reverse and compiling the detailed information.

Remember, to organise your notes, simply add them to your handbook or put them into a separate folder.

Whichever form you use is up to you – and partly up to what you want it for. Mindmaps and timelines / flowcharts of a topic are great for further revision and exam preparation. They can also be converted into physically active learning. Simply write the detail / background on a removable sticky. Once you are sure you know the information you can simply remove it and thus test yourself. If you are a history student studying for your iGCSE for example, make a timeline of Germany starting with the signed armistice. Place all the key dates on a piece of lined paper. Use sticky notes to write the detail of the event on, then stick them onto the relevant dates.

There are plenty of suggestions and examples on the internet if you are stuck – simply type in ‘note taking’ or the topic you are learning and see what you find – and the Open University gives examples of various techniques online for free. Or ask your tutor for help.


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