Tips to improve your note taking skills

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Every nursing class is different. Every instructor teachers in his or her own way. It’s hard to keep up sometimes when styles are changing, but the one thing you can do is ensure that you know how to take some pretty awesome notes. Here are a few tips that I’ve learned over the last two years:
  1. To type or not to type. Sometimes if you listen to the sounds of the class room, you just hear the clicking of keys in the distance…almost like it’s raining. I would say about half of my class brings a lap top to class and types notes. You really have to find out what works for you. I love my laptop, and I can type faster than I can write, but when it comes to paying attention and focusing on the content, typing doesn’t do it for me. I have to write out my notes by hand in order to retain any information. But to each his own – you’ve just got to try them out and see which one works for you.
  2. Organize yourself. Some teachers who use power point presentations send them out ahead of time, or make them available to print out before class. If you type, figure out if you like to add your notes to each powerpoint slide, or if you like using the “notes” box on the bottom of the screen. I personally don’t like either way – and a simple outline form works for me when I am typing. If you handwrite your notes on powerpoint printouts, you can print out the slides, or – what I like to do – print the outline out with the page on “landscape” mode, so there is room for you to write on the page. If your professor doesn’t use powerpoint, make sure that you keep your notes organized in a folder or notebook for easy reference later.
  3. Be prepared. It’s pretty much standard for teachers to say read X chapters before class because that is what will be covered in class. But that might not work for you – just like it doesn’t for me – especially if your textbook isn’t the most straightforward. For me, it helps to hear the lecture first, and then go back and read the material. It helps the information ‘click’ in my head. But whether you read all the chapters ahead of time, or prefer to wait till after lecture, always come knowing a little bit about what’s going to be discussed so that you know how to set up your notes.
  4. Write what you don’t know. This is harder when you’re first starting out in nursing school, because everything seems so new. But even so, when your professor is talking, try to think about what is being said first, before writing anything down. You’ll surprise yourself with how much you know if you sort out ‘old information’ and just jot down new ideas and facts that you’re learning.
  5. Get a clue. I don’t mean that in a mean way! But often times, teachers use clues to let you know what to focus on. Sometimes it’s obvious when they say “in case that’s on your test” or, “that’s usually a question that people miss on the test” etc. When this is said – write down what they were talking about because chances are, it will be on the test. But sometimes it’s not so overt. Be aware of topics that are given special attention to, or when its something the teacher keeps going back to again and again. Other key words are, “this is usually an NCLEX question.”
  6. Supplement it. Obviously, you can’t just show up to lecture and expect to pass with flying colors. Take your notes and re-read them, then read the book (if you haven’t yet) and compare. Jot down more notes on top of your class notes (or vice versa – you can take your class notes along side your book notes). Always use other resources like the CD that comes with your text book, or a companion website.
  7. Re-listen. If your instructor talks too fast that your notes are just partial sentences that don’t come together to make any sense, just stop writing! When this is the case, record the lecture instead. Spend the time in class by really paying attention. Be alert and connect the dots with what is being said, what you know, and what you’ve seen in practice. Then at home, go back and listen to the lecture again at your own pace and take notes… remembering what you went over in class.
  8. Make your own book. I don’t mean write your own text book, but I’ve found it to be really helpful to keep my notes in a set notebook, and always leave room for more notes by skipping lines and leaving space. This way when I go back and listen to lecture, read the book, or have questions, I can write it down in the same spot. Once all the main information is in your notebook (whatever form it takes) that’s the only thing you need to study! You’ve got all the info you need all in one place, in your own words, your own style, in a way that makes sense to you!

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Ani Burr, RN

I'm a brand new, full-fledged, fresh-out-of-school RN! And better yet, I landed the job of my dreams working with children. I love what I do, and while everyday on the job is a new (and sometimes scary) experience, I'm taking it all in - absorbing everything I can about this amazing profession we all fell in love with.

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2 Responses to Tips to improve your note taking skills

  1. Steve

    I’m just wrapping up my first semester of nursing school at the University of Portland. They’re having us take pharmacotherapeutics this term so that we will be prepared to pass meds during our clinical rotation next term- despite the fact that Summer term is shorter than fall or spring- and on top of that the professor wasn’t available the first week, so we got started an extra week late.

    It’s a lot of material to cover in a short period of time, I’ve found recording the lecture on my iPod nano and taking notes using my laptop directly in the notes section of the power point she shares with the class on-line has worked the best for me. I can type faster than I write, and I can look at the professor while I’m typing- wheras I have to look at the paper in order to write straight. By recording the lecture, I can go back and review my notes while listening to the lecture- and make flash cards for each of the drugs we need to know. Then on test day, I can pick one lecture covering the topic I’m having the most difficult time understanding and listen to it during the one and a half hour bus ride to school.

    However, for my clinical skills class, I’ve found that I do better if I just listen to lecture and only take very limited notes, since we don’t have to memorize a huge amount of data- we’re more being asked to understand conceptual data, something which tends to sink in the first time with me.

  2. Ani Burr

    Sounds like you’ve found what works best for you! :) My instructor this quarter records her lectures on her ipod and then sets it up as a podcast for download onto our ipods. I’ve never been one to re-listen to lectures until now. It’s really been helping. And I did just what you said for my test yesterday – picked the lecture I had the hardest time with and listened to in on the car ride to school! :)