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How to write notes

By Danielle Barakat on 13 November 2018HSCNSWblogStudy tips

Note writing is one of those skills that takes a while to perfect, but once you know what you’re doing it becomes the easiest step in studying. Having a good set of notes is the foundation to having a really solid study structure, but having a bad set of notes is one of the most dangerous things that can happen in your HSC year because you’ll waste a lot of time making them only to get no value out of them.

So, how do we make sure the notes that you’re making are actually going to be useful and valuable this year? These are our 6 tips to the perfect set of notes:

1. Structure by syllabus

This is a pretty standard bit of advice, but in my opinion, it’s the most important. Structure your notes by the syllabus and that’ll make sure you have everything covered and don’t miss anything. This is quite easy, all you have to do is copy and paste the syllabus into a word document and then use the syllabus dot points as headings in your notes.

Under each of these headings, you should be adding information like definitions, explanations, descriptions, facts, examples, etc. By doing your notes like this it’ll make sure that you know a solid amount of info for each dot point so if you get a multiple choice question or a short answer question you’ll have a semi-ready answer just from the info in your notes.

Don’t forget that the syllabus is broken into three parts: outcomes, students learn to and students learn about - and you need to make sure your notes cover all these three sections. These other sections that you maybe haven’t looked at before are usually where your teachers and examiners pull out the extended response or essay questions, so it’s important to know how to answer each of those areas too.

2. Include examples

In almost every subject you are required to provide evidence to back up what you’re saying. This is another way of saying use examples in all your answers. So why not put them in your notes and pre-plan these examples so you know that they specifically relate to the content you’re talking about?

This generally refers to two specific types of examples:

  1. Quotes - This one is pretty obvious, but using quotes in your essays is essential and this is not only true for English. You should also be using quotes for subjects like History where you’re quoting historians or even Studies of Religion. For example if you’re looking at bioethics in Islam you want to include quotes from the Qur’an that demonstrate where each teaching has come from such as, “And no person can ever die except by Allah’s leave and at an appointed term” Qur’an 3:145 as evidence for Islamic teachings on the bioethical issue of euthanasia.
  2. Case studies - Using case studies in subjects like Economics or Business Studies will help get your marks into those top bands because they demonstrate higher order and critical thinking skills. For example, if you’re discussing how a business uses marketing strategies to increase their profits it’s a great idea to explain your answer using a real-life business example. This shows that you not only understand the basic concepts but you also understand how to apply your knowledge to a real-life situation.

Another reason you would use examples in your notes is to help make sense of complicated ideas and concepts. This is useful in subjects like Maths of Chem where you have formulas you need to know how to use. Memorising the formula is one thing, but actually understanding how to apply it is a useful thing to have in your notes.

3. In your own words

Always write your notes in your own words. There is no point in copying anything straight from the textbook or from a video because you will never fully understand it until you’re able to take that information and re-write it. If you can’t do this whilst you’re writing notes, then the chances you’ll be able to remember the info and re-write it in your exam is going to be very unlikely.

Copying the info word for word may sound easy and the best way to quickly get your notes done, but it is defeating the whole point of writing notes in the first place.

4. Include exam tips

The good thing about the next year is that you will have multiple attempts before you actually get to the HSC exams. Yes, these attempts count towards your HSC but they don’t weigh as much as the final exam so they’re a good way to learn from your mistakes and learn what works for you and what doesn’t. So every time you sit an assessment or exam, take what you’ve learnt and update your notes with some tips and tricks that you’ve picked up along the way.

5. Visual learning

Sometimes, typed or handwritten notes don’t suit everyone’s learning style and that’s okay, it just means you need to think of other ways to display the content that works for you. If that means you need to draw pictures, or flowcharts, or stick colourful post-it notes all over your room then go for it. There’s no judgement here.

Even if you want to incorporate visual aids into your written notes, that’s also a good idea because visuals tend to stand out more in your memory and the process of actually making the visual is a guaranteed way to engage with the content and gain a really good understanding of the concept.

But just a tip, don’t spend too much time making your notes look pretty. Pretty notes do not equal good marks.

6. Condense & re-write

You’re now at step 6. You’re probably thinking that you can now finally finish note writing. That’s it. Everything’s written you’ve got your visual aids ready to go, you’ve got all your case studies and examples and you’re done. Well, I have some bad news for you: there’s no such thing as a finished or complete set of notes. You constantly have to work with them to improve your knowledge, understanding and critical thinking.

Once you’ve written your notes for a topic, it’s really important that you go back and write summaries, and then write another summary until all the irrelevant bits of information have been cut out. The more times you go over your notes, the more you’ll be able to pick out what’s important and what’s not. You'll also start to learn the content, so eventually, you can get to a stage where you don’t actually need the long explanation, simple dot points will be enough information for you to remember what you need to know.

Your notes shouldn’t be 400 pages long, they’re supposed to be short, sharp and to the point, with only the information you need to know in there. So keep on working on them until they are exactly that!

Good luck!

In year 12 you feel like all of your time is spent making notes so it’s really important that you have a solid method for doing this in a way that’s efficient and smart. So remember to follow the syllabus structure, include examples and case studies, write them in your own words, include some sneaky exam tips, don’t be afraid to get visual and keep writing and re-writing. 😊

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