Taking Notes

Even temps/VPs/interns do it

Hi guys! Abby here. Lately Andrew’s tasked the TAs with a secret (not-so-secret) mission to observe the class, specifically noting when students seem to be paying attention, when students talk, and note-taking habits. From my observations, I’ve noticed in particular that only about 50-75% of the class regularly takes any kind of notes. Though it’s difficult for me to see all papers, from the papers I have seen, I’ve also noticed that a lot of people are either highlighting or just jotting down a few words on their handouts. Now, I’ll say up front that this is not a true scientific study (we’d have to collect and analyze notes for that) so we know that this is not a true diagnosis of the class. And while note-taking is not necessarily tied to academic performance (correlation is not causation), they definitely are linked.

So in the hope that maybe this might help people get more out of the class, I’d like to go over a few tips for good note-taking in Science 200. I’ll cross my finders and hope that you guys will find some of this to be applicable and helpful outside of this class as well!

  1. Come to class and stay! Andrew does a superb job of making sure he uses his time well. All of what he discusses at all points in class (including the last five minutes) is important. For that reason, attending class and making sure that you stay for the whole time is also important. Plus, you know, you’re literally wasting money (yours, your parents, the loan business’, the governments’, your scholarships’) by skipping class, coming late, or leaving early.
  2. Listen! It’s simple in theory, but if you’re not actively trying to give all of your attention to Andrew, then you’re much more likely to miss something important. As a modern-day, real-life college kid, I get it: it’s really tempting to pull out work from another class, text, check social media, talk to the people around you, or even just zone-out/partially fall asleep. However, giving into those distractions will again increase the likelihood that you’ll miss something important, you won’t write it down, and you’ll struggle to understand it later.
  3. Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 2.02.27 PMLook out for the larger implications and take-aways. Usually, Andrew is telling us a story and we need to look out for the moral, the lesson. Maybe that lesson is correlation versus causation, or the danger of false positives/negatives. Make sure you write down the parts of the story that are important to remembering why it matters. In the lecture about smoking, for instance, there are a lot of slides that just showed pictures of advertisements. Writing down why those advertisements are important in the context of the lecture. For example, here’s why those ads matter:
    • Tobacco companies manipulated the public’s opinion by suggesting that cigarettes were healthy because allegedly doctors “recommended” the cigarette brand because of “smoothness” as if “smoothness” is an indicator of health.
    • In reality, the advertisers were trying to distract the public from that obvious logical fallacy with a shiny “scientific-y” ploy: doctors are respected as health authorities, so saying that doctors recommend cigarettes, even if they’re just saying that a brand is the “smoothest” and not even the healthiest, gives automatic credibility to the ad.
    • This is an example of how the media misrepresents things as “scientific” as an advertising ploy–> lesson learned: don’t always take advertiser’s word.

Writing something down about this train of thought is important. Writing something to explain charts, pictures, and concepts that you struggled with is important. Writing something about the broader conclusions from the lecture is especially important. From the smoking lecture, a good idea would be to write something down about the burden of proof needed when trying to argue that something popular is bad (this goes along with cost-benefit analysis), not all data are equal, the difficulty of “proving” a particular hypothesis, social, economic, and political phenomena often impede science, and the ambition of science is to reduce uncertainty as much as possible.

4.   Don’t rely on just the handout. You should definitely keep the handouts in a folder or binder in order to review them later on. But the most important things are always the ones that Andrew says, not that he writes. You guys have taken the first exam and know this is true. Write down what he says. Highlighting and underlining is never enough. Synthesize the important information into a “so-what,” a general principle or lesson that helps us understand science and scientists better. Sometimes Andrew does this for you, but putting it in your own words always increases the likelihood that you’ll remember it later.

5.   For Science 200, I found writing on the handouts and drawing physical connections (circles, arrows, etc.) between the information on the handout and the information I wrote down to be helpful. That way when you review your notes for the exams or even the blogs, you can follow your original thought process.

6.  If something confuses you, write your confusion down. Similar to what you should do with the important points, try to synthesize your confusion into a simple, concise question. Then ask that question in class or after class (that’s what Andrew and us TAs are here for) and write down the answer.

7.   Write down connections and analogies. If you’re listening to a lecture and suddenly think, “Oh! That reminds me of that time/of that book/of that economics principle/etc.,” write that connection down. Just like putting things into your own words, putting concepts in your own schema (previous knowledge and system of reasoning) will help ensure you remember and understand it better.

I’ll end by saying that if you’re not doing these things, strongly consider doing them. In part, consider them because they’ll help you get a better grade. But even if you don’t care about your grade (I know this is one of your science GenEd requirements), this class could actually help you live a more informed, better life if you pay attention and put effort into it. Since you’re already paying for this class, cost-benefit analysis might suggest that it’s worth your time to pay attention to it. And take notes 🙂

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About Abigail Kennedy

Hi all, I'm Abby Kennedy and I'm a junior at Penn State University's Schreyer Honors College. I've found passions in my double majors in English and Secondary English Education and in my minors in History and Latin American Studies. In spare time, I love singing in my a cappella group and working. No, I can't believe I'm halfway done. There's still so much to learn.

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