Note-Taking Skills for Chemistry and Other Classes

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Want to get the full benefit from your school chemistry classes or chemistry tuition classes? Then it’s time to learn how to take clear, helpful notes. Your classroom learning process will go much more smoothly if you are listening carefully in class and taking good notes from your instructor. These note-taking skills aren’t just for chemistry tuition and studies, either— these skills can help you excel at any subject.

How Important Is Note-Taking?

According to research, human beings “tend to lose almost 40% of new information within the first 24 hours” after first exposure. However, studies show that people who takes notes about the information they are seeing or hearing can retain much more data. That’s because they are making the transition from passive learning to active learning.

Think of it this way. If you’re sitting on the sidelines, watching a sport being played, you can become familiar with the rules to a certain extent. But when you enter into the action and play the sport yourself, you learn the rules on a whole new level. They become ingrained in you, and you learn skills and strategies that the people on the benches will never experience.

That’s what note-taking does for you, whether you’re in class or in session with your chemistry tutor. Instead of being a passive observer, you become an active participant. You’re involving different parts of your brain, including your muscles and fine motor skills. There’s a triple effect of hearing, writing, and reading that is going on simultaneously, and that trio of actions combines to form a powerful learning experience.

Systems for Note-Taking

While all note-taking can be helpful for learning engagement, there are some types of note-taking that are more effective than others. Check out two excellent note-taking systems and experiment with them until you find the one that works best for your learning style.

The Cornell System

The Cornell note-taking system involves two columns on the same sheet of paper. The left column takes up about a quarter of the page width, while the second column is three times as wide. The left column is the cue column, the area where you’ll write key words or phrases as clues to help you remember the rest of the material.

1. Record

When you take notes with the Cornell system, you first write down the words of the lecturer or tutor in the larger column, using short sentences. You don’t have to write down every word; if you try that, you’ll fall behind in the lecture. Keep the sentences concise and clear, and make sure that they contain the ideas, concepts, and details that the teacher or tutor is communicating.

2. Question

After class, write down some questions for yourself, based on what you just heard. You can use a separate paper, the margins of your note-taking paper, or parts of the cue column for this part of the exercise. In the cue column, you can also write some clues or cue words related to the topics you’re studying.

3. Recite

With a fresh sheet of paper (or with your question sheet), cover up the wide column in which your notes are written. Looking only at your clues, cue words, or questions, start talking about the concepts or facts you’re learning. Repeat as much as you can remember of the content from your notes, but use your own words.

4. Think

Consider carefully the chemistry material that you just worked through. How are these facts relevant to your life right now? How do the concepts relate to things you have previously learned? What’s the foundation for the chemistry laws you’re studying?

5. Review

Go over your notes again from time to time, every week or more often. Just reading the notes through can help cement the information in your brain and improve your recall for the next exam.

The Gavilan System

Proposed by Gavilan College, this system focuses on patterns and categories as the “hooks” on which to hang your notes. If you’re following this system, use only one side of the pages as you’re writing down notes during the lecture. Reserve the back side as space to correct or clarify your notes for more effective studying.

1. Abbreviate

Rather than writing whole sentences, add in abbreviations or symbols to speed up the note-taking process. It doesn’t matter if the symbols don’t make sense to others, as long as you remember what they mean.

2. Fill in Gaps

Did you zone out or fall behind during part of the lecture? Leave several lines blank and keep going. Later, you can ask the teacher or a fellow student about the part that you missed, and you’ll have space to fill it in.

3. Mark Special Sections

If your teacher or chemistry tuition instructor offers a demonstration, example, or experiment about a concept, mark that section somehow. Perhaps you might take notes with a different coloured pen or draw a bracket around the section. This way, you can easily refer back to the demo or example to clarify a confusing concept. Use a different color of ink or a special symbol to identify other special sections like charts, formulas, and diagrams. Mark any connections or relationships that you notice, as well.

4. Pre-Read and Be Attentive

Read the assigned material before class begins. Show up a little early to ask questions or copy extra material from the board. Be the one who stays for a few minutes after class to catch the last bits of helpful information, while others are hurrying for the door.

5. Review

Just like the Cornell system, the Gavilan system emphasises the important of thorough, frequent review. The more you are exposed to information, the more likely you are to retain it. Combined this with the spacing effect when studying, you might find a great  improvement in information retention and understanding!

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