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How to Take Killer Notes in IB

Good note taking is essential for success as a student (in High School and University all the more). And yet most people don’t know how to do this well. With this in mind, here is some guidance for you, to help you take more effective notes.

You are responsible for everything covered-- whether it’s in the textbook or if it comes up in class. However, if you are someone that learns much better from the textbook then you might want to work ahead in the textbook (taking notes) so that when the teacher talks about things you'll already be well aware of what's going on.

Keeping good notes helps you to keep your ideas organised and also to force yourself to think about things, which is how you learn. Just reading a book does not force you to notice anything. Also, if you take great notes as you go (during the year) you’ll find yourself much better prepared for Exam Practice.

What ARE great notes?

Good notes are thoughtful. I can often tell whether you were really thinking about the material when you wrote your notes. And it’s obviously much better if you’re thinking through the material when you’re writing your notes, as opposed to watching TV at the same time.

Here as some things that we find in excellent notes. Great notes are normally:

-Not too crowded. So use white spaces to separate different concepts. This will also help when you want to add new information later. You might want to draw 1) draw a verticle line down the centre of your page, 2) take your notes from the chapter on the left side of the page, 3) and then, when we cover the material in class, write your class notes on the right side of the page. You can also use this part of the page for mnemonics and questions.

-Use arrows, dots, boxes, diagrams, charts, numbers and other symbols to show the relationships between different concepts. For example, you might want to number your lists.

-Colourful. Use a variety of colours (if it helps you learn). You might want to underline all key words in green and useful examples (that you could use in exams) in orange.

-Work on your mnemonics. Rather than waiting for the last 2 months before the exam, make sure you’re learning (and memorizing) as you go. Acronyms, pictures, and associations should be there in your notes.

-Include extras. I have students who find a newspaper article related to every chapter. They read it (underlining important parts), write down questions and answer the questions. This is awesome! This really shows that they’re thinking.

-Include questions for your teacher. As you’re writing your chapter notes, you should be thinking of questions. Write those down in your notes and then fill in the answers when you get them.

-Some students use a Q&A technique, writing down questions as their section titles. This forces you to notice what question your textbook (or your teacher) is actually answering, which help you to recall it better later. Again, this works because you are forcing yourself to notice things about the information. It's very easy to write notes quite passively --writing down almost everything while watching TV for example. But you won't learn as well that way.

-Focus on writing down new ideas, rather than everything. If you already know something there's no reason to write it down again in your notes.  However you might want to write down a way to remember it on the test.

-Review and edit. I love it when I see you’ve crossed things out or added new information from a class discussion (i.e. with a different colour pen). This shows you’re thinking about it.

Are your notes too messy?

I don’t really mind if your notes are very neat or not. When you’re making an concept map, it’s actually important to not worry about making it neat. You should feel free to see connections whether they're are connections, rather than where you have room on the page. However, if you can make them neat you’ll appreciate it come exam time. Typing your notes is fine, but some people find that when they type they don’t think carefully enough about what they're writing.

How to improve

As you develop as a learner you should keep trying out new approaches. I recommend to my students that,

  • after every test, they find a different way of doing something and do an experiment. This could be a new way to do your notes, or a different way of revising. Or maybe you could try to make sure you ask a question every single class. Decide on something.
  • Then, after the next test, decide whether the different behaviour helped you or not.

In reality we can probably do several experiments at once, but this kind of (iterative) approach is at the heart of any kind of improvement. So some of your improvements efforts (experiments) should have to do with your notes as well.


Cite this page as:
Woods, Tim. “How to Take Killer Notes in IB” IBMastery 1 Jan 2017. Web. TODAY’S DATE <>