Hey, everyone! A few months ago I posted a tutorial about how to blog in college and, judging by how many people shared it on social media, you guys really liked it. So I thought that I’d write another one!
Today’s post is all about rewriting your notes. This is something I do for some, but not all, of my classes – more on that later – in order to prepare for tests and I find it very helpful for REASONS that I will also discuss later. I wrote this post with my experiences at college in mind, but this would work equally well for middle/high school students or grad students as well.
The notes shown in the pictures here are for my Media Usage & Effects class, and I plan to spend this Saturday morning rewriting my notes and studying for my final in that course. That’s why I wanted to post this today: It’s almost finals week, at least here at Iowa. Some of my friends who attend other schools had finals this week, but we have ours next week, so… I’m sorry if you already took yours and hope the following post will help you next semester. If your finals are next week like mine, then I hope this post arrives in time to help you study!
But before we begin, a word about writing by hand vs. typing: I don’t take notes on my laptop during class, and I don’t retype my notes before a test, either. There are a lot of studies that point towards the effectiveness of handwriting over typing: It improves your ability to recall what you wrote down. (It also means you won’t get distracted by the Internet!)
Obviously, you should adapt to your own unique situation – for example, I’ve heard that people with dysgraphia have an easier time typing than writing – but for me, writing my notes by hand helps me to more fully process whatever it is that I’m writing. I can type so much faster than I can write, which is good when it comes to efficiency… but not so great when I realize that I just typed something so fast that I barely even registered it and have no idea what the last few sentences. Typing notes hinders, not helps, my memory.
Anyway, let’s get started. I’ve broken up this post into six parts: Who, what, where, when, why, and how… because, in addition to being an English major, I also have a second major in journalism.
You, of course! You are the only person you absolutely need for this note-rewriting project to work, although of course you can accomplish this as a team. I like study groups, but I’ve never tried rewriting my notes with other people because it does take a while and it’s hard enough to find a time that fits with everyone’s busy schedule just to quiz each other.
But you could definitely try it. As they say, two heads are better than one.
Or you could rewrite your notes before your study group meets, and then bring them with. People always ooh and aah over my notes because they’re so colorful!
You will need:
I rewrite my notes in the same notebook that my original set of notes were in, so that they’re all in one spot and easy to keep track of.
2. A writing utensil
Personally, I find that using a pen instead of a pencil when it comes time to rewrite my notes forces me to slow down and really think about what I’m writing, since I can’t erase my mistakes.
Also, I have lots and lots of pens with ink in all sorts of different colors and as you can see, I like to use those to rewrite my notes. It makes the notes more visually appealing, which helps to hold my attention when I’m rereading them. It breaks up the monotony of reading my original set of notes, which were hastily scribbled in now-smudged pencil!
More importantly, though, writing about each concept or definition in a different color helps me to distinguish between separate ideas. I often group similar or related ideas by the same color.
3. Any relevant texts
This varies according to which class I’m studying for. This might mean a textbook, a novel, handouts from class, readings that were uploaded to the course’s webpage, or any combination of the above. As you rewrite your notes, it’s important to refer back to not only your original set of notes but other resources as well. I usually double-check the texts to make sure that I’m wording things correctly and didn’t misunderstand something that I found in my original notes.
4. [Fill in the blank]
I like to make myself a mug (or two or three) of tea while I work on this. Snacks might be nice. Or a blanket, if it’s cold out. Also, I basically HAVE to have music playing in the background while I study because I can’t stand having only my own thoughts for company.
You do you, though. Whatever keeps you motivated and happy and productive.
A study spot. It doesn’t really matter where, as long as you like to study there and can work without being interrupted. I spend a lot of time in my dorm room or in the honors center, but I do occasionally study elsewhere. (Especially now that the weather is getting warmer!)
In the past it has taken me anywhere from one to three hours to rewrite my notes, so it’s not a huge undertaking but you will need a moderately long stretch of uninterrupted time so that you can focus.
I aim to begin studying for a test anywhere from three days to two weeks before it, depending on how difficult I know it will be. It takes time to figure this out, but you will. I’ve earned 100% on tests that I started studying for only a few days before. This semester I have rewritten my notes for exams in Media Usage & Effects and Language Rights.
Also, I should point out that you don’t need to rewrite your notes for every class! I have never rewritten my notes for Wonder Woman Unleashed, for example, because the exams are more about testing our comprehension of Big Ideas and less about breaking down those ideas into little pieces and providing definitions for each piece. You may feel your time and effort spent studying for a certain class’s test would be better directed at some other form of review. That’s OK.
I don’t remember where I heard this – it may very well have been in Media Usage – but apparently successful review sessions happen when you study actively, not passively. In other words, you need to do more than just rereading your notes. You need to interact with the material.
Rewriting my notes involves first rereading my old notes and then revising them. I have to think carefully: How should I phrase this definition? What examples, if any, should I include? Thinking about this helps me to figure out which concepts I feel confident that I understand and which concepts still confuse me.
Rewriting my notes involves checking multiple sources – my original notes, the textbook, papers I had to write earlier, et cetera – and spending a lot of time with the material. Merely rereading my old notes does nothing to help me. I have to sit down and pay attention and create something new.
Slowly. Carefully. Take your time! Connect concepts from one chapter that will be on the test to concepts from another chapter that will also be on the test. Make your notes look awesome: I love seeing the difference between my colorful new notes and my haphazard penciled notes. (I will take any semblance of organization that I can get. It makes me feel like I have my life together and actually know what I am doing.) While I’m at it, I quiz myself to see if I know the definitions of certain terms, then I check to see whether I was right and write it down.
ALSO. This is just my opinion, but I think your rewritten notes should generally be shorter than your original notes. Obviously, this depends on the complexity and difficulty of both the course and the test, but I find that professors go off on all sorts of little tangents during class. Sometimes it isn’t really necessary to include the five different examples they rattled off, if you feel that you understand a term or concept with just one.
Whew. That was a long post! I hope it helps you – that it helps someone – and just as I did at the end of my post about blogging in college, I’m going to ask you to help me out by sharing this post on social media, telling your friends about it, et cetera. Not because I want to get more views on this blog – well, not JUST because I want more views – but because I want to help people and would love it if this post spread to friends of friends of friends. And so on and so forth. So that more people find it and use this advice. Thank you!