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Back to Basics: Students, take note
Dont just jot down every word said in class and please, stay off Facebook
Eleni Vincent uses multiple colors of markers to help take notes during a recent Summer Scholars Institute class at Gainesville State College. Experts recommend taking notes in line with your personality and learning style, and being careful not to write down every word the instructor says. - photo by Tom Reed

About this series
Throughout the summer, we looked at life skills new graduates - and, for that matter, everyone else - should know. These could be doing a load of laundry, balancing a checkbook or being organized. These stories appeared every Monday this month.

Back to Basics: A school life summer series

Tips to manage a maze of multi-tasking 

Laundry tips for college freshmen

When you travel from literature lectures to current events discussions to music history classes, all of the information is bound to get a little jumbled from day to day.

But if you've taken good notes in class, separating Shakespeare's sonnets from Sarah Palin's speeches and Stravinsky's sonatas will be a snap.

Taking good notes isn't always easy, though. Here's a roundup of some of the best practices.

Write actively
Writing down every word a professor says to the class is never the best option. Instead, think critically about your note taking.

"Try to capture key ideas, key arguments and key points," said Debra Dobkins, director of Brenau University's Writing Center. "Be sure to make note of anything that you're not sure about, that maybe raised questions or ideas."

This active style of taking notes will help later, especially when tests and essay assignments come up, she said.

"Yes, you're trying to capture and record what the lecturer is telling you," Dobkins said. "But you should also be using that as a space where you're really thinking and interacting with the material and the subject matter."

Know Yourself
Are you going to be tempted to check Facebook or e-mails if you have your laptop open in class? Then pull out the old-fashioned pen and paper.

Garrison Bickerstaff, an instructor in the University of Georgia's Division of Academic Affairs, said there's a tension building between professors and students over the use of laptops in class.

"The laptop is so controversial, and its controversy is only increasing," he said. "The tendency to get on Facebook is so incredibly high that I recommend students find a way to take their notes and preserve their notes without using a laptop in class."

But he said if students can resist the urge to constantly update their Twitter accounts, then laptops can be useful.

"It's powerful for students who are used to typing quickly, especially if it's a long lecture and they can sustain their note taking on the laptop," Bickerstaff said.

Review Often
Reviewing your notes frequently is the key to acing a final exam or writing a thorough paper.

"It's not enough just to take (notes) and then pull them out for final exams," Dobkins said. "Take them and then look at them and make sure you understand everything.

Make that appointment with your professor or ask at the beginning of class."

Bickerstaff suggests taping a second piece of paper to your original notes and using that space to record personal reactions, questions and insights.

"Having that sort of second layer, that reaction to your notes - some people call it the two-column method - is a good way to predict test questions and just understand the text or the notes better."

He said you could also use your notes to talk through a difficult point with a friend, who may or may not be in the class.

Explaining the notes to someone else helps the information stick.

"It creates an intensity or a sense of accountability that a student might not find if they simply look at their notes and re-read what they've written," he said.

And when you figure out exactly what techniques work for you, leaning forward with a note pad and truly listening to what's said in class makes a difference.

"It shows your teacher that you are fully engaged," Dobkins said. "And I think that's what she hopes for, a room full of students who are fully immersed in that day's discussion."

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