Making good notes is a skilled activity and, like any skill, it is important to put time into developing it by following a structured approach. Notes should be brief yet complete reminders of the essential information in a chapter.

Follow the MESSED’ method when making notes:

  • M: USE TWO MARGINS Draw a narrow margin (1cm) on the left-hand side and use this for numbering headings. Draw a wide margin (6cm) on the right and use this later for making any additions you feel necessary.
  • E: EASY TO READ – Since your notes will be used to revise swiftly and often it is important that they are user friendly. Care now will save you a lot of time later.
  • S: SHORT Use words or their abbreviations, symbols and diagrams (spider grams, web diagrams, mind maps, graphic organisers). Sentences should only be used for important definitions, quotes, or equations.
  • S: SPACED– Do not cram your notes – they are hard to learn from later. You can also add more information in the open spaces at a later stage.
  • E: EMPHASISE AND ENHANCE– Number and highlight each heading. Then list and itemize the details. Highlight important items during the revision stage.
  • D: DOWN AND DESIGN– Work down the page. After completing each chapter think of how the design of your notes could be improved in the future.

Now that you know how to structure your notes you should read the chapter first before putting pen to paper.

While reading do the following:

  • read the introduction or the first paragraph. If there is no introduction:
  • read the summary or last paragraph.
  • study the illustrations/graphics – diagrams, charts, graphstables, pictures.
  • read the headings.
  • read any highlighted text.
  • read the questions at the end of the chapter.

(Make sure your notes contain the answer to these questions).

You are now ready to get to work.

If, however, you feel you do not have time to make notes an alternative is to highlight the chapter in your textbook. Follow the six reading steps above then read the chapter from beginning to end. As you do, think hard at the end of each sentence. Only highlight the key words except where there is a sentence which contains definitions or quotations.

Other active methods of studying and note-taking, which are not dealt with in any detail here, are the use of mind maps, graphic organisers and flash cards. Recent research suggests that these are superior methods, compared to highlighting and linear notetaking. You should explore these and settle on the system that suits you best.

The advantages of using any of these methods are that your concentration is improved because you are forced to be more actively involved in thinking about the material. You are not being passive. You are processing the information and, in a sense, making it your own. Your learning is deeper and thus greatly enhanced.

Frequent revision is necessary if you are to retain mastery of each chapter. Your notes, highlighting, or whatever method you have chosen, will allow you to revise quickly avoiding the time-consuming task of having to go through the full chapter. If you develop these skills and use them consistently, you will be able to bring a huge body of information in the various subjects under your control.