Note taking in graduate school

1996, Michael D. Kinsman

No one ever taught me to take good notes. That worked to my disadvantage throughout my graduate career. As I look back today at some of my pitiful attempts at note taking, I realize how important good notes would have been for me and how much easier they would have made my academic life.

With that in mind, I offer a few suggestions to you on better note taking and better study habits.

Don't try to do it alone: One of the first classes in your MBA program taught you things about leadership and cooperation. One of the valuable lessons I hope you took from that class was that you can't be as successful alone as you can be if you are part of a successful team.

If you have three "study buddies" in your class, consider having a rotating two of you take notes each night of class. In that way, two of you can be concentrating on what is going on in class rather than in taking notes. Many things in class may happen at speeds that note-takers, with their heads down, may not notice.

The second advantage of this system is that each of the four of you will have two sets of notes. Those sets of notes may be very different--each of the note takers may have picked up two-thirds of what occurred in class. The combined notes are likely to have picked up nearly ninety percent of what happened in class.

Don't be an environmentalist: As I review my students' notes, I notice that most students have become environmentalists--they use every available inch of a sheet of paper when they take notes. While that is good for forests, it is probably bad for your success as a student.

I suggest that you take notes on only one side of a sheet of paper--generally, the page that would be odd numbered in a book. That leaves the even numbered pages available for adding examples, filling in holes, or adding graphics as those are important.

I would also suggest that clearly heading each section of your notes--either by changing your type face to CAPITAL LETTERS or by changing colors--can be useful. A set of notes that allows you to go back and quickly find relevant materials as you study or as you use them in an examination setting is valuable.

Review your notes after you take them: Many students never look at their notes after they take them. A review and rework of your notes, soon after you finish a class session, is valuable. Particularly if you are working with a group, you can augment your notes so that they have more value.

Tape record: If your professor allows it, I would suggest that tape recording a class is a very valuable way to augment your note taking. Sometimes you can pick up things that you would otherwise miss in class by listening to your tape as you read your notes.

Summary: What does good note taking get you? Probably higher grades; likely more success in achieving your ultimate goal in the MBA program; and certainly a set of notes that you can refer to fifteen years after you finish your MBA. I commend good note-taking to you.

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