Friday, April 12, 2013

What I wish I had known before starting my school - Note Taking

Frankly, it hasn't been a year.  Cambridge has a tri-term system and I am currently on the Easter break that comes after the second (Lent term).

No doubt it is difficult but there are a few random things that I wish I did better.

Note Taking
Obviously, you want to take good notes.  The best way you can.  This was one of more difficult things for me as I am not good at listening and writing / typing at the same time.  Thus, my notes sometimes appear that I have only caught 2/3 of the material.  You can always ask the lecturer for permission to record but frankly, I am not sure how many of those students have time to go back and listen to the recorded lectures.

So here is some tips:
1. pick a method and stick with it - obviously unless you try a few different methods, you won't know what you would like.  For me, I prefer typing (And so does 90% of my class).  Easy to modify later and insert comments and questions, highlight and change colors etc. 

2. know what today's topic is. - I don't know about other schools (and I assume it will be similar), the lecturer usually uploads on the faculty website the word version of the handout in advance.  I would spend some time, even if it is for a few min to read over and understand the structure.  Yup, I mean the structure.  Not necessarily the details of each case that will be lectured but what is the topic and subtopics.  One way to do it is to draw out a flow chart or a bubble diagram.  Or in a word document, you can use different heading levels.  It gives a good visual representation of the structure of each topic which can be later used for outlines during revision time. Yeah it is easier said than done as it takes time.  But for my final year, I am going to try anyhow.

3. Color code things - I know I haven't done this for a long time but it does help.  Because you will end up with hundreds of pages of notes and sometimes, you want to look for a case, or an applicable section of a statute or whatever.  First, for words, I leave the lecturer's original note in black.  And insert my note in blue, so it would be easier to spot what is right (the black part) and what has a possibility of being wrong (as I may not have understood the lecturer correctly).  Also I highlight my notes in different color.  I use yellow highlights for important bits, use green highlights for case names, and blue highlight for clauses of statutes.

My supervision notes are also color coded - original information remains in black, I insert my preparation notes in blue.  If I have another source on same topics, I use green to note that it is basically the same information but summarised in a different way possibly.  Also when I go into a supervision, and the supervisor allows use of laptop, then I insert my supervision notes in red.  I know it is complicated but I know now that it makes a difference as my earlier notes don't have a structured color coding system and it is not as easy to review notes as ones from later.

Also reading the textbooks, I use similar system.  Yellow for important texts, green for case names, blue for clauses of statutes, and orange for KEY CONCEPT WORDs. 

Ok I think that's enough for note taking.  I might have more thoughts on it later but for now I am good.

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