Student blog post

Note taking at university

Engineering student Stephanie shares her tips on effective note taking.

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Over the last 4 years at university, I have tried really hard to take good notes that would enable me to learn and excel at my exams. I have made A LOT of mistakes with note-taking but have also learnt a lot of tips and tricks that I hope can help people take better more effective notes. 

So let’s start with identifying different types of content, lecturers and examinations. All these factors and more affect the way we take notes. I will give some samples of my experience and hope you can draw from them. Studying engineering can be quite specific but I strongly believe these are transferrable to whatever you study. 

The cram scram 

One experience I commonly have is exams with a lot of information I have to remember and not enough time during class to write notes. The content for these modules usually is relatively easier to understand but have a higher volume of things to remember. My tactic with these modules is usually to listen in class and write flashcards after (I have added images from my social media stories and you can ignore the comment of frustration haha!)

If I am being honest, I would usually get bored in these classes because personally, I really need to be engaging my hands to stay concentrated.  I recently found a solution to this problem that I wish I started earlier, it’s Quizlet! I do have the paid version but I believe it is totally worth it. I now bring my laptop into class and create flashcards of the content while I am in class. I am also able to keep up with the content as I usually have access to the lecture notes beforehand and of course typing is much faster than writing.

screenshot of online planning board

Tip: If you don’t have access to your lecture notes, just ask your lecturer if they can can put them up beforehand – I’ve had quite positive experiences with this as most lecturers have lecture notes ready before the lesson. 

With this new Quizlet method, I have saved so much time because I would usually write flashcards out of class and now I take most of my notes in class with Quizlet. So you might be thinking, writing helps information sink more than typing, yes that is true but Quizlet also lets you learn information very quickly by using there digital flashcards and many learning and testing strategies which you can also do from your mobile phone. In my experience, this has led to a lot quicker and resilient knowledge which has helped me perform better in examinations. 

The deep learning 

As I study engineering about half of my modules focus on what I like to call ‘deep learning’  this is an in-depth understanding of concepts and formulas. For these lectures, it’s more about grasping the concepts than remembering information.

I find what works the best for me is actually studying the concept beforehand which I am able to do with most of my modules. For these, I take detailed in-depth notes before the class (when I can) and use the class to consolidate knowledge and add footnotes to by detailed notes. 

student notes

What I also find is that closer to the time of the exam the knowledge is not ‘fresh’ anymore so I distil my detailed notes into shorter summary sheets with help with reference when answering practice questions and a very visual representation of information I am meant to have. 

student's notes arranged in boxes with different coloured inks

The practical class 

As an engineering student, I have modules that focus on teaching how to learn to use the software. For most of these modules, there are no lecture notes to guide you through using the software, this can be the greatest feat of multitasking; trying to take notes and follow a tutorial when the lecturer is going a mile a minute. So what I have started doing is recording the audio of my practical tutorials. This has saved me SO much time and effort try to remember and take good enough notes. It also means I am spending more time understanding the steps I am taking instead of just knowing the steps. 

I hope this has been helpful!

Stephanie Anani

Mechanical Engineering student, graduated in 2020

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Student voice category Study, Studying