How To Take Effective Study Notes You Will Actually Read

T N Meem
| Last Updated: 26 July 2020
 
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One of the most crucial things that you need to do if you want a semi decent ATAR is to take effective study notes. Effective study notes are not perfect, they mostly just cover the core information. Their job is you to get you as high a mark as possible, not to get you perfect scores. If you get 100%, congratulations but that is not the main goal of your study notes. The main goal of your study notes is to make sure you understand the topics. If you write study notes with the goal of getting 100% rather than learning the topics, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. 

Getting 100% means knowing a whole bunch of random information on top of all the core information. You’ll end up re-writing the whole textbook (and even that might not be enough to get you 100%). Focus first on getting all of your core information and then you can focus on adding on to it. 

Here are 6 tips for writing effective study notes.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
  1. Don’t waste energy recording your classes, you won’t be bothered to listen to them later
  2. Don’t just paraphrase the textbook, summarise it
  3. Take Notes Throughout The Year Rather Than Rushing To Get Them Done Before The Exam
  4. Base Your Summaries Off The Syllabus
  5. Do Not Base How Well You Will Take Study Notes, And Study, On The Beginning Of The Year
  6. And Most Importantly: Attend Your Classes And Pay Attention

Don’t waste energy recording your classes, you won’t be bothered to listen to them later

The unfortunate reality is that when you are studying, you are not likely to listen to a year’s (or half year’s) worth of hour-long classes. You might listen to them again right after the class ends but when you are revising for an exam or an assessment, you will not have the time to go through every single recording. In fact, I recorded a lot of my classes and I don’t think I ever listened to them again (I might have listened to one or two because they were funny but never for revision). You’re just wasting your phone’s storage. Unless you are an incredibly dedicated student with no other commitments, you don’t have the time or energy. Just admit it and move on.

Furthermore, if you record your classes, you probably won’t write notes which is just about the worst thing you can do. You will get to the end of the year and look back on an almost empty notebook. You won’t have the advantage that having consistent, detailed class notes provide. 

Of course, if there is a very special lesson or your teacher specifically tells you that you should record this specific class, do so. Especially if the class is a revision class. You’ll still have a recording that’s an hour long but it’ll be the only one you’ll have to listen to and it may have crucial information concerning assessment tasks.

Don’t just paraphrase the textbook, summarise it

This is just an extension of the first point, you don’t have time to write down everything in your textbook. You don’t have the energy for it. If you are doing your HSC, just doing classwork is already exhausting. You have a lot of work to do just for keeping up with classwork, let alone extra study notes. Your best bet is to summarise the textbook (if you have one) and class notes. Focus on the most important points. Focus on core information. Your summaries should be no more than 25% of the content you are summarising. If you have a ten page summary for a 20 page chapter, it is not a summary. Cut it down. You don’t need it and most importantly, you won’t read it. 

Take Notes Throughout The Year Rather Than Rushing To Get Them Done Before The Exam

Even if your notes are incredibly brief, it is still better to take consistent notes throughout the year rather than trying to summarise an entire textbook two weeks before the exam (and let’s face it, I’m being generous here). Having consistent notes, however brief, will lessen your workload prior to the exam and will reduce the risk of you burning out before the exam even begins. 

Base Your Summaries Off The Syllabus

There is no value in a set of notes if you don’t read the syllabus before taking them. Your textbook is a horrible indicator of what you need to learn. It rambles (a lot). If you read the syllabus first, you’ll at least have a vague idea of what you need to learn for the exams. Yes, some textbooks are very good and have the syllabus dot points at the side of each section but do you actually read the side of the textbook? Let’s be real here, you’re probably rushing as it is just to get through the required reading. 

Do Not Base How Well You Will Take Study Notes, And Study, On The Beginning Of The Year (Or During Bursts Of High Motivation)

The honest truth is that most people, at the beginning of the year, will have a lot more energy and time to study and take study notes. Obviously, you should take advantage of periods of high motivation, they are rare and far between, but you should not create an entire study plan with the idea that you are going to remain as motivated as you are at the beginning of the year. Allow yourself to slow down. Assessment tasks will come up. Other responsibilities will require your time. It’s a part of life.

Have a study plan for the beginning of the year and periods of high motivation and a second one for the rest of the year. That way, you will have a lot more room to deal with other commitments and won’t constantly be feeling disappointed in yourself. Having a second study plan also reduces your risk of deciding that you should just give up on studying just because you can’t stick to your original plan.

And Most Importantly: Attend Your Classes And Pay Attention

There is nothing you can do that will substitute attending classes and paying attention. Your teachers have information that will be valuable to you when you do assessment tasks. They direct you in what you need to study. They have the experience and knowledge to know what will likely be on the test. Taking study notes without paying attention during class is like going on a road trip, to a place you have detailed knowledge of, without a map. 

Final Thoughts

Don’t underestimate how much work you are going to be expected to do for your HSC. Don’t underestimate how hard it is going to be. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that you don’t have the time to perfect your assessment tasks, let alone your study notes. If you worry too hard about getting all the information, you’ll end up demotivated and burnt out. You can always add to your notes but for now, focus on the basics. If it turns out that you have a ton of time left then you can always perfect your notes. 


T N Meem Bio

T N Meem

My name is Meem, I am an aspiring writer and am currently majoring in creative writing and marketing with the goal of working in the publishing industry once I graduate. I play two and a half instruments and organise my wardrobe by length and type of outfit.


Photo by Samantha Hurley from Burst