For me, writing study notes was oddly overwhelming and tedious throughout my senior years of high school. However, as I progressed through Year 11 & 12, I learnt lots of different techniques when it comes to note-taking which made this process fun as well as more productive. Below are some useful tips and advice that may guide you to write effective study notes that are logical, clear and concise and super easy to refer back to leading up to exams!
- Decide whether you want to write your notes electronically OR handwrite your notes. I recommend you to stick to one system as having your own notes in one place rather than constantly flipping between your laptop and exercise book would be helpful. Personally, I wrote all my notes electronically as I found it more efficient and quick – I was able to modify my notes easily such as adding any important information, or condensing my notes to help me retain information better. Some do prefer handwriting notes as it helps them to remember information, but do what works for you. Everyone learns differently so try to figure out which system would suit you.
- Write notes according to the syllabus. The amount of times I’ve heard, “the syllabus is your best friend” is uncountable – but this is honestly so true. The way you write study notes will vary for each subject. However, for most of my subjects, especially humanities such as Legal Studies, I ALWAYS referred to the syllabus when writing my notes. I copied and pasted the ’Students learn about’ column on a word doc and for every dot point, I briefly wrote key notes below each of those. I found this super helpful as I was able to organise my notes logically, and ensure that I had covered all the content that needed to be learned according to the syllabus. At the end of the day, all questions in your exam paper can only be taken out of the syllabus. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for you to constantly refer back to your syllabus and use it to help you write your notes. Refer to the syllabus!!!
- Write notes ahead of class. I usually wrote my notes ahead of time using my textbook as well as any useful resources I found online even though I haven’t learnt the topic in class yet. Writing notes ahead of time was super useful for me as I was able to briefly read over key bits of information and gain a general understanding of a topic beforehand. That way, when your teacher teaches you this topic in class, you should already be slightly familiar with it and use this time wisely to listen and further understand any complex concepts that are being explained. This may also help with your knowledge retention as you are learning things twice. Also, during class, as your teacher takes you through the topic, you can just simply add any important information to your notes – that way, you don’t miss out on any important information.
- Write notes as you go and try to stay on top of it. It’s really easy to fall behind on notes but try to make sure that you write notes for each dot point or topic of the syllabus as you learn them in class. You shouldn’t be leaving writing notes to the last minute. It’s not ideal to write study notes right before exams because you should be using this time to be practicing questions and completing past papers. If you fall 1-2 weeks behind, you should make sure that you try to dedicate some time to catch up on notes. Practice is super important, so I made sure that I was on top of my study notes so that I could easily refer back to them when I was practicing questions or doing past exam papers.
- Keep it simple. Write dot points rather than full sentences and paragraphs. Do not overdo it and write hundreds and hundreds of pages worth of study notes – this is obviously not effective as you wouldn’t be able to remember crucial bits of information since you would be too overwhelmed. Try to keep it to a minimum and write ONLY the most important dot points for each topic. I struggled with this a lot and I found it difficult to differentiate between what was important and what was not – but as you keep practicing summarising and writing notes, you should be able to figure this out. Talk to your teacher if you are unsure. I constantly refined and condensed my notes as I wanted to make sure that I was not wasting any brain space for any useless information!
- Use a variety of resources to write your notes. Don’t just rely on your textbook, because chances are, other students across the state have the exact same information as you. Your teachers and HSC markers would probably find it boring to read the exact same response hundreds and thousands of times. So broaden your knowledge and research – include interesting facts/opinions into your notes such as statistics, articles, opinions/perspectives of well-known people etc. This will make your work stand out to markers.
- If you write your notes electronically, print them out and further annotate it. Leading up to exams, I would highlight and annotate my own notes. I found this super useful and effective as I was able to refine my knowledge, make sure I understood the content as well as using this time to process and remember critical information. However, don’t just simply rote learn and memorise your notes – try to understand it.
- Take it easy. Don’t just focus on writing study notes and think that you should spend all your time doing this. Having effective study notes is extremely useful and important as you are able to keep track of everything you have learnt so far and easily refer back to this when preparing for exams. However, don’t disregard the importance of practicing questions such as doing past exam papers – you should dedicate and prioritise your time doing this instead. Don’t be stressed if your notes aren’t perfect. As long as you have sufficient information to answer any question that is thrown to you, then you’re all good.