Effective Revisions & Notetaking

Thursday, September 27, 2018

1. Take your notes by hand.

Hard pill to swallow: if you have tabs open on Urban Outfitters, Facebook Messenger, and The Cut, you're not paying attention in class. I find that taking my notes by hand, even digitally, makes it harder to multitask and helps me actually retain the information. The classes I performed most poorly in (ahem, PSYCH100) were the ones where I mindlessly retyped the slide decks while finding the best Cyber Monday deals (and then actually shopping the Cyber Monday deals, and then the "in case you missed Cyber Monday" sales). Handwriting your notes helps you organize them in more intuitive (non-linear) ways -- think cute arrows, groups of content, flow charts, etc. I still prefer digitally handwritten notes (via the OneNote app) over traditional pen & paper for better organization and archives, though.
2. Create a template to organize your thought process. 
What works for me is a loose Cornell template that (1) organizes the vocabulary/core concepts, (2) identifies concepts in increasingly granular detail, (3) leaves room for questions, (4) allows me to synthesize the information. I also include the associated/relevant readings and lecture title at the top of the page. I like that OneNote allows me to flag each of these things. (See also: How I use OneNote for work!)

3. Always make cheat sheets, even if you can't use them in class.
I've very rarely had to reference a cheat sheet during an exam because the process of making one is such good practice. It forces you to (1) review the key topics and concepts, (2) hunt down every single useful formula and its applications, (3) narrate the logic of different problems and solutions.

About 10 days before a major exam, my study routine is as follows:
10 DAYS PRIOR: Outline the major concepts and review the chapter summaries in the textbook. I like to plan my studying so that I have at least 1.5 days per chapter (depending on the course -- some classes have longer, more comprehensive units).
- I dedicate 1.5 days to each chapter or major topic covered on the exam. One full day to review slide decks, chapter summaries, and my notes, and then half of the next day (to test retention) on practice exams or questions. In math/econometrics classes, I spend the half day redoing any problem sets. I also make the Quizlet if I haven't done so already.
5 DAYS PRIOR: Take Practice Exam 1 "dry". Ideally, I'd have more than one practice exam to review with, but if I only have one, I'll revise the problem sets again. By "dry," I mean without any references to replicate the exam setting (even if you are allowed a cheat sheet). This helps me identify what I suck at.
- If there's a type of question I struggle with (a time period in history, an accounting concept, etc.) I spend extra time studying that from a different approach. If I didn't understand it from reading the slides or textbook, I'll try a YouTube video or going directly to office hours.
3 DAYS PRIOR: I create the cheat sheet. The example below sort of deviates from my favorite template, but I typically create a left column for key concepts and definitions, and then dedicate the rest of the sheet to breaking down the logic of different types of problems. For humanities-based courses, I do Cornell notes.
Good luck!

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