Source | FastCompany : BY BELLE BETH COOPER
Whether you’re a student, you’re taking down notes during meetings, or you’re a regular at industry lectures and conferences, effective note taking is a skill you could probably benefit from.
Although we tend to take notes for years when we’re in school, most of us don’t ever learn how to take effective notes, and we’re wasting time on approaches that don’t work.
And unfortunately, the most common approaches to taking notes really don’t work well.
Do you ever highlight books or your own notes? Do you underline important points? Do you sometimes reread your notes to refresh your memory?
Here’s the bad news: Those techniques are all pretty much useless.
In fact, highlighting is such a bad study technique it may even harm your recall ability, since it highlights particular notes and takes them out of their original context, which makes it harder to form connections in your mind—and thus, harder to remember the material.
Studies have found the most effective note-taking techniques are active, whereas rereading, highlighting, and underlining are passive techniques. We need to interact heavily with our notes and the material we’re trying to learn if we’re to remember it.
So what active techniques can you use to make your note-taking efforts worthwhile?
For starters, don’t use a laptop to take notes, no matter where you are. A series of studies pitted laptop note takers against students taking longhand notes and found the laptop approach fared worst in terms of information recall.
In the first study, students watched a video of a lecture or TED talk, then completed 30 minutes of hard cognitive tasks before taking a quiz on the material from the video.
Students who wrote longhand notes outperformed laptop note takers in recalling information to pass the quiz. And when the researchers examined the students’ notes, they found a clue as to why: The laptop notes tended to include a lot of verbatim transcription of the video, whereas handwritten notes couldn’t be written fast enough to do the same. If we can type fast enough to transcribe information verbatim, we can get away with writing notes without engaging our minds too much—we don’t have to think critically or even pay too much attention to simply write down exactly what someone’s saying.
So for the second study, the researchers specifically asked laptop note takers to not write notes verbatim.
In this experiment, not only did the longhand note takers still perform best on the quiz, the laptop note takers still wrote verbatim transcriptions of the videos. The explicit warning to not do so made no difference at all.