Students: How to Remember What You Learned This Term


Student studying

Ah . . . final exams are over and you’re ready to close the book on subject X and relax. School’s out, after all, and you deserve a break.

I hear you — but wait! By pausing to take just one more end-of-semester step, you can create a very helpful reference for yourself. Save this information and it’s quite likely you’ll be able to use it in studying for future classes, in compiling your résumé or portfolio, and perhaps even in writing requests for recommendation letters or scholarship applications.

Best of all, this end-of-term activity is fairly easy to do while classes are still fresh in your head:

For each class you had, compile a one-page summary of what you learned.

A few guidelines:

*if you have a course syllabus, start there. A syllabus typically lists the course objectives and a list of units and assignments, so you can use this information as an outline.

*whether or not you have a syllabus, go through your textbook and class notes unit by unit. Look for major concepts and lessons, taking note of what particularly challenged you and what particularly stood out for you in any way.

*make note of any special projects you did: perhaps a major research paper or oral presentation, for instance. Any such projects serve to build your skills (e.g., in writing, research, or verbal communication).

*you might include a brief reflection, as well: what did you practice repeatedly in the class? How do you think you improved? What were your major mistakes and frustrations? How might you build upon your progress in the future?

While these one-page summaries do indeed have practical applications, remember they are primarily for your own benefit (most likely, you’ll be the only one ever to see them). But the activity of processing your recent learning is worthwhile in any case; and considering that you already devoted hard work and time to learn, you owe it to yourself to “save” your academic memories in an efficient, organized way.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Note-taking, Part II: PowerPoint & A View from Japan

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Welcome to Powerpoint on PowerPoint

Image via Wikipedia - Flickr / garethjmsaunders

Saturday, I posted some links to sites on note-taking skills.  Today, I’d like to comment on note-taking in juxtaposition to that “learning object” so omnipresent in schools and businesses alike: PowerPoint slideshows.

Now, I’ve used PowerPoint many times over the years, though relatively occasionally in the classroom. It’s good for professional presentations while speaking in front of an audience, as long as the presenter remembers to use the slides judiciously. But the danger of PowerPoint in a learning environment is that it can encourage passive, rather than active, learning. It can cheapen communication and turn everything into a sales pitch,” as was noted in the Wired article “PowerPoint is Evil: Power Corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely.”

That article was published in 2003. Flash forward eight years to an article published just days ago in the Japan Times Online, “Advantage of taking notes.” The writer is Takamitsu Sawa, President of Shiga University in Japan, and he claims that note-taking is an indispensable professional skill that college students must learn.

He also discusses PowerPoint. Notable quote (emphases mine):
 “PowerPoint deprives teachers of the motivation to improve their teaching skills, and students of the opportunity to learn how to take notes. Students in the past learned well what was taught because they had to take notes. Today’s students are not helped by the large number of papers shown via PowerPoint in rapid succession.”

I’m not claiming here that PowerPoint = categorically evil and your own notes = universally virtuous; but I am claiming that students need to become actively engaged with their learning material in order to study effectively.  It is true that taking notes is active, while it’s easy to sit back and drift off mentally in the presence of PowerPoint.

. . . which brings me back, once again, to the importance of being trained to take good notes.

Are You Taking Notes on This?


As a student, I remember hearing thnotes on a clotheslinee advice “When the professor is talking, you should be writing.” Yet in my community college teaching experience, I’ve looked out on many a classroom to see students seemingly unaware that they ought to be taking notes at all. I’ve also realized that those who were trained to take notes fared far better in college.

Help is here if you need a refresher course on note-taking. Learn more about this vital student success skill below:
“Classes: Notetaking, Listening, Participation”: handouts, links, and videos from Dartmouth College.
“Listening and Note-taking Web Sites” from the Academic Success Center at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, CA.
“Note taking and in-class skills”: a page of tips from Virginia Tech’s Cook Counseling Center.
“Note-Taking Skills” from the Academic Resource Center at Sweet Briar College.
“Note-Taking Strategies: How to Get Your Class Notes into Shape” from College Board.

Image via / earl53

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