Posts Tagged ‘notes’


Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

I tend to feel very disinclined to write about my own academic frustrations, because such things are very sensitive topics, but I feel as if my current issues, and hopefully possible solutions, can be of help to other students.  The problem?  I cannot seem to take good notes while reading.  I have been working at this for a few days and literally have found no good way of reading and notetaking.  The closest I come to doing such is underlining what I feel are key passages and making notes in the margin.  What this doesn’t work for is books that are supposed to be library only.  These are texts that I won’t always be able to gain access to, so how do I address this issue?  I need my notes to not only explain what a reading says, but also be able to handle explicit quotes.  My note taking process as it exists now takes up way too much time for me to spare.  I can’t let a reading take me half a day to digest, ponder, and then summarize into notes.  What I’ve also noticed is that the notes are themselves a text that I allow to grow too long.  I used to think that taking notes in full sentences would ease the process of writing about a text later.  What I’ve come to realize is that it takes up far more time to create these full sentences.

This semester of too many credit hours forces me to find a new method to move through material quickly but most importantly effectively.  What point is there to doing all this work if it amounts to nothing?  I will give an example of a book that I am really struggling with:  Man Awakened From Dreams.  The book is divided into chapters which should potentially make my life easier, yet I find it difficult to divide the chapter it meaningful subsections as each portion of the chapter tends to be one long overarching discussion of a topic.  For instance right now I am re-reading a chapter on filial piety…the whole piece is threaded together in such a way as to make it difficult to put or cut into meaningful chunks.  How do you handle a monograph?  How do you divide up portions of a story?  The next problem I encounter is how to actually write while reading.  As I talked with a student about it, she mentioned “Well you can only do one thing at a time.”  That’s what is keeping me in this mess.  If I wait till after I finish a chapter, I have already lost the specific break down of the chapter.  Sure I could probably summarize it, just not be able to pull the info from my head into a nice paper and certainly not without the use of the book.

And if you are wondering…this problem has also been crossing over into lectures.  Lectures, unlike books, tend to be in shorter segments, giving it a sense of urgency, purpose and direction.  Professors only have 50 minutes or so to deliver a talk, so their talks carry a very strong thread, for the most part.  I know for instance my history professor specifically shows an outline of her talk before even beginning.  This not only sets the stage for the talk but also gives students a framework to take their notes.  They will know how the talk is divided and this really helps to organize notes.  But what about professors that take tangents?  What about a complicated talk that does not have a solid outline.  Even worse, what do you do with a discussion based class?  So far my answer to this has been to start using the Cornell system.  I used to just bring my computer and essentially write down every word.  That process is not notetaking, that is transcribing, they aren’t the same.  Frankly, writing every single world is just laziness.  It’s easy to take down everything said and not be critical about the material.  When you are forced to create a series of keywords about the lecture, you have no choice but to think critically.  What is important?  Tangential?  These are judgment calls which ultimately make the information more important.  Cornell, in my mind, through the use of keywords on the left side of the page encourages a student to categorize information.  However, I still haven’t settled on it.

Penn State University put out a helpful guide dealing with a wide range of note taking strategies depending on the style of the lecture and how content heavy any given talk is.  Many of these options boils down to experimenting and seeing what works for you.  Most people assume that they know how to take notes, but I would hazard to say that it is a skill most people do not have fully developed just yet.  Why?  I believe that note taking is actually a challenging task that requires very thoughtful musings in creating categories, keywords and key phrases.  Maybe note taking relies on the same structural method of a blog?  This is the end of the road, I have discovered a problem in my study skills, and now I reach out to you, fellow scholars, avid readers, and beyond, because you all might have information and thoughts that I have not stumbled across yet.  This semester’s work requires new methods, new ways of tackling and processing information.  As it stands, I do not process it fast enough.

So if you get any thoughts or ideas, particularly about reading and notetaking, leave me a comment or send a message @bahktinjali on twitter.   I greatly appreciate any help!

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