Effective note-taking requires more than just writing down everything a speaker says. The idea is to create a useful tool to jog the memory, not to transcribe every word. Good note-taking requires practice, but even those who aren’t used to active listening can learn from others’ mistakes. Read on to find out about six common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Writing Down Every Word

Even the best speaker won’t always stay 100% on-topic, and there’s no sense in writing down information that won’t advance the note taker’s understanding of the subject. The best way to stay on-point is to arrive prepared with an idea of the bigger picture behind the lecture so that listeners can focus on what’s really important. Developing a basic understanding of the topic will also make it easier to keep notes organized using apps like Evernote.

Mistake #2: Writing Without Listening

Listeners shouldn’t get so involved in taking notes that everything the speaker says goes over their heads. Take the time to listen to and process the information before noting it down. Waiting until after the speaker has made his or her point to pause and take notes can improve active listening and ensure that the notes will be helpful and relevant.

Mistake #3: Disorganization and Lack of Structure

For notes to be useful, they need to focus on the subject matter and be organized enough that listeners can go back and find what they are looking for without having to re-read everything. It’s often the case that multiple points made by the speaker coincide. Make a brief mention of the connections between seemingly diverse subjects, but don’t get sidetracked. It’s best to keep sets of notes specific, on-subject and well-organized.

Mistake #4: Not Summarizing Ideas

Just writing down the main points isn’t enough. Think of paraphrasing the speaker’s most important points like highlighting text in a book. It’s helpful, but it doesn’t go far enough to induce critical thinking. Good book-based note-taking involves going back and summarizing points or coming to conclusions. Similarly, good note-taking strategies during lectures involve summarizing ideas and connections and writing down relevant questions for later review.

Mistake #5: Taking No Notes

Human brains are complex organs. It can be hard to predict what information will stick in listeners’ memories, even if they’re deeply interested in the subject matter. Minor distractions can cause people to forget critical details, so never assume that it’s not worth taking notes because the general subject of the lecture is familiar or it seems interesting enough that it should be memorable. Play it safe and bring a device equipped with a note-taking app, or even an old-fashioned pen and paper, to jot down the most essential information.

Mistake #6: Not Reviewing Notes

The entire purpose of taking notes, to begin with, is to have easy access to the information for later review. Even the best-organized and most detailed notes won’t do students or lecture attendees any good if they don’t go back and review them. Notes taken using an established method should be organized enough to make later review easy.

The Bottom Line

Taking notes during a class or lecture gives listeners the chance to jot down important ideas and return to the subject for later review. Combined with active listening, note-taking also fosters creative and analytical thinking. Don’t underestimate the importance of taking structured, well-composed notes.

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