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Taking Notes like a Human Being

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How to Take Notes like a Human Being

- and fly on the wings of higher learning
A FRIEND IN NEED. Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. Section.
Taking mental notes mainly, may work better than writing them down. It depends on how well things are recalled, and for how long, and the circumstances, among other things.

There is a tale of a father inventor and his son Icarus. If the son had taken down a few notes and memorises them well enough, he could have escaped forgetting his father's instructions. Then he would not have flewn so high that the sun burnt the wings of wax his father had equipped him with, and would not have fallen into the sea either, killing himself.

However, his inventive father should have made a point of checking that his son understood, and how good his son was at following instructions. The father instructed, but did he chech that the son had understood? The latter point is vital. Some teachers imagine that students have learnt a curriculum just because it has been taught, but the facts of life are remarkably different by and large.

And if the son had understood and had confirmed it, something went wrong anyhow. He did not follow up well, and that was the end of him. Or was it? One ignored problem with the old Icarus tale is that humans do not fly, another that wax is not good enough for wings at any eights - as far as I know. Humans cannot fly by hand movements, they are too weak and heavy and bulky for it, even with artificial wings.

Here I admit I consider the Icarus tale a flight of fancy. However, mature fancying - imagination - can work well in a study. Much learning depends on imagination and what it has led to in the arenas of art, culture, language, sciences, and further. There should be no doubt about that. But that is another story.

Findings of Gordon Howe

Dr Gordon Howe, at Exeter University, and others have done repeated studies on different kinds of note-making, and have noticed the principle notes yes, but the fewer the better. How few, then? Just one or two keywords jotted down may not do full well in the long run. Just accept that Howe's findings are not much qualified. Different note-making techniques were ranked as follows:

  1. Key-word notes made by the the person learning (the best method).
  2. Key-word notes given by the lecturer or teacher, etc.
  3. Summary sentence notes made by the learner.
  4. Summary sentence notes given by the lecturer or teacher.
  5. Complete transcript notes made by the learner.
  6. Complete transcript notes given by the lecturer or teacher.
  7. No notes at all (the worst technique).

Key-words were defined as those which held the most relevant sense in the shortest way possible, and which also gave the most immediate recall when the note-maker was tested, write Tony and Barry Buzan, rendering the investigation. (2010:20-21)

Be on the outlook for significant words (Buzan 1988:113-14). Our minds don't necessarily recall by way of sentences, but often recall in key-words and images. It's often like that: visual memory (imagery) can be great for recall. It has been substantially documented experimentally.

Of the words we hear, see, and use, perhaps nine or ten per cent are essential for recall, and thus solid key words.

Organising your thoughts in queues and long lists is called linear arrangement of key words and the rest. But such note-taking may not be the best for long-term learning. It should work better to ally yourself with mind pictures and key words, preferably, because (1) they are lined up to how the mind probably prefers much of its input. (2) Key words may further be organised like maps to work even better - that is, branching out some way or ways. Tony Buzan's mind-maps exemplify more. (Buzan 1988:114)

Finally you can arrange keywords into delicate flowery maps, mind maps, for structuring the main ideas in an OK display helps overview and perhaps memory too. A very simple idea map is given further down.

Keynote Summaries

Nice abstracts and extracts - summaries - help not a few. A mature summary is much to go for, and can be distilled in many ways and be helped by programs.

Francis P. Robinson (1962) indicates that time for text study is well spent when about 80% of the time is used on memorisation. Hilgard's Psychology referred to his findings earlier (Atkinson et al. 1987, app.). And memorisation is helped by notes and summaries - and idea maps are structured keynote summaries.

A summary:

  1. Can be an essential condensation in your own words.
  2. Really goes a long way in telling "what the author is most likely or really saying".
  3. Concludes well as a result of carefully tuning in to author or lecturer.
  4. Should be steadily faithful in rendering the other's emphasis and interpretation.

COLLECTION
Note-taking like an expert, taking study notes, END MATTER

Note-taking like an expert, taking study notes, LITERATURE  

Atkinson, Richard, et al. Introduction to Psychology. 9th ed. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1987.

Buzan, Tony. Make the Most of Your Mind. Rev. ed. London: Pan, 1988.

Buzan, Tony, and Barry Buzan. The Mind Map Book: Unlock your creativity, boost your memory, change your life. Harlow: BBC Active / Pearson, 2010.

Robinson, Francis P. Effective Reading. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.

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