Taking Notes: Taking Notes on Reading Assignments (page 2)
In many classes, the lecture is based on content from a book. For example, in a literature class, you need to read the novel or play or poem first so that you can follow along with the lecture. In a history class, you need to read the chapters about the end of the Cold War so that you can better understand and follow the lecture on this topic.
Instructors don’t always cover only the information from the book. Often, they add other facts because an instructor who simply lectures from the book makes for a pretty boring lecturer. The best lecturers bring in other concepts and show how concepts relate to other events or trends or ideas. They help you build connection and see relationships among the topic at hand and the world at large. That’s why it’s important that you take notes on lectures (as covered in the preceding sections).
In addition to lecture notes, you should also take notes on any reading assignments. Doing so will help you find and note the key ideas in the reading materials. Taking notes on a reading assignment ensures that you are really understanding the information rather than just skimming over it. Having these notes will come in handy when you need to prepare for a test or compose a paper. The following sections give you tips on how to best take notes on your class reading assignments.
To Highlight or Not to Highlight?
You’ll find differing opinions on the usefulness of highlighting. It’s true that if you indiscriminately highlight entire passages (maybe even the whole book), the highlighting won’t help much when you go back to review the main concepts. Also some anti-highlighters say that highlighting makes for passive rather than active reading. This is similar to jotting down everything the instructor says but without making sense of it yourself.
Personally, I like to highlight (as do a lot of instructors and
students), but when highlighting, it does make sense to do so judiciously. Consider these guidelines for highlighting:
- Focus on the main point — and that may not be the entire sentence. It’s perfectly okay to highlight only key terms or parts of sentences. In fact, you may get a better sense of the main idea of a paragraph if you highlight a string of words (excluding extraneous information) that lets you glean the main idea at a glance.
- Consider reading the entire paragraph, and then going back and highlighting the important words and ideas. If you highlight from the start, you may not be sure of the paragraph’s purpose and how to best capture that purpose or idea with your highlighter.
- Don’t make highlighting more complex than it needs to be. Some students use several color of highlighters to call attention to different types of information. This is overkill and is likely to add confusion (rather than clarity) when you do review this information. Also, this makes taking notes more time-consuming.
- If you buy a used textbook or other reading material, look for one with little or no highlighting. It’s hard to ignore the previous owner’s highlighting.
- In addition to highlighting, consider jotting notes in the margins, next to passages. This note-taking strategy is covered in detail in the following section.
Making Notes in Your Textbook
You may have grown up with admonition to never write in a textbook or novel, but that changes as you progress through higher levels of school. And yes, marking in a textbook can affect its resale value, but it can also help you review information and note your thoughts as you read the material. If you’re adamant about keeping your textbook free from markings, consider keeping a reader’s notebook, in which you can cite the page and passage, and then record your thoughts in this notebook.
The purpose of notes isn’t so much to remind you of what the passage or paragraph says but to record your ideas and questions. What do you make of this point? Does it relate to something you learned earlier in class (or in another class)? Look for ways to connect what you’re reading to what you’ve read in other places in that textbook or in other course books or classes.
Also consider jotting down questions you have, especially if you don’t understand a word or a concept. You can then either ask the instructor for clarification or research the idea on your own.
Most instructors welcome questions; it shows that students are engaged in the learning process. So in both lecture and reading notes, you may want to record any questions you have for the instructor:
- You may need more information to better understand the reasoning behind a concept.
- You may wonder how one event related to another event.
- You may, at times, even ask whether certain information is important. (Some instructors tell you that certain material will not be on the test, for whatever reason.)
On the Test?
Don’t get in the habit of badgering the instructor about each and every point you cover in class and whether it will be on a test or used in an assignment. You can, however, ask this question when the information is really detailed, seems like an aside (or extra information) from the main point, or isn’t covered in class. Instructors usually consider these questions to be legitimate clarification of what’s important on the test and what’s not.
Recording Reading Notes in a Notebook
If you don’t want to mark up your textbook with questions or you don’t have room enough in the book to jot down your thoughts and ideas, consider keeping a reader’s notebook to record your notes, questions, and comments. It’s a good idea to rework your notes from both the lecture and reading into an easy-to-scan format. Doing so organizes the information and stresses the important facts so that you can use this information for studying for tests, finishing homework assignments, or writing papers.
Even if you write notes in the book itself, you may also use a reading notebook. You’ll have more room to record your thoughts and any questions you have. You’ll also have space to draw connections from one section to another.
Like jotting notes, comments, and questions, you may also jot down the main ideas, especially to help organize the information. The headings and subheadings in a chapter can help you see how the information is related and its relative importance to other concepts in the chapter, and you can note this in your notebook. You might include the headings in the notes, or organize the notes in an outline format that follows the chapter organization. You can also flag any charts, diagrams, pictures, illustrations, or other artwork that concisely summarizes material and shows its relevance to other material. You can note the page number of the illustration or flag the page with a Post-it note.