Study Skills
Study Skills for High Schoolers – Mastering Note-Taking
Study Skills for High Schoolers – Mastering Note-Taking
6 min read
By Chantel Streicher
Published on Tue Dec 06 2022
Study Skills for High Schoolers – Mastering Note-Taking

Low grades and poor performance on tests are often misinterpreted as sole indications of intelligence at school, especially in high school. However, intelligence on its own does not guarantee high schoolers will perform to the best of their abilities and reach their academic potential.

Effective study strategies and tools are vital to supporting high schoolers in their learning, focus, and understanding of their school subjects. There are many study strategies worth trying, each with its own unique benefits. However, we will address one of the oldest and most valued study skills: note-taking!

Now, note-taking may seem simple, but researchers have studied and theorized the most effective methods of taking notes that yield the best results. Luckily you don't have to sift through all the research, we've done that already.

We've chosen the best evidence-based note-taking methods that will help your high schooler ace school. What's better, they are skills they will continue to use should they choose to study further! Also note that here at Coachbit we currently run a Note-taking Module, providing our students step-by-step support in nailing this skill!

Note-Taking Works... We Can Prove It

Research has consistently shown that note-taking, specifically classroom note-taking, is linked to positive test performance. The two main reasons are as follows.

First, while taking notes, students are actually learning. This process is known as encoding. The information students record during a lesson or lecture is encoded which is a significant step in the learning process of understanding and recalling information. What actually takes place when students capture their notes while simultaneously listening to the teacher, is phonological (use of sounds to process spoken and written language) and orthographical processing (recognition of words), which are both beneficial to encoding learning material into memory.

Second, reviewing notes while studying has an external storage benefit. This theory suggests that taking notes is not enough for learning and recall. Students benefit from reviewing their notes as this solidifies the information learned into longer-term memory.

Now we have mentioned a lot of complex terms, and you are probably wondering about the evidence of note-taking strategies. Researchers conducted three experiments among 80 undergraduate students tasked to incorporate varying note-taking strategies looking at how the different note-taking strategies affected their recall performance on same-day quizzes and delayed tests.

The two strategies consisted of a transcription strategy (trying to transcribe the lesson verbatim) and organized notes (identifying the key ideas and concepts in a lesson). Organized notes are generally considered superior as these notes represent a deeper understanding of the information gained in a lesson. Whereas, simply transcribing a lesson involves shallow information processing. However, the research showed that the students that used the transcription strategy were able to recall the information in delayed tests if allowed to review their notes.

Often there is pressure when it comes to note-taking, that one must immediately be proficient at identifying the key ideas or concepts in a lesson. This can be intimidating for anyone embarking on their note-taking journey for the first time. Therefore, as a start, trying to capture everything that is said in a lesson is not wrong or useless.

Note-taking is a skill that is learnt over time. Luckily there is a lot of research out there full of tips and tricks to developing organized notes that your high schooler can try out once they have gotten the hang of the transcription technique! Check out some tips below.

Note-Taking Strategies to Try:

1. Use a Laptop if Possible

If you have ever taken the time to watch people take handwritten notes in class, it's usually in a pure frenzy. Research has shown that our typing speed exceeds our writing speed, and for high schoolers growing up in the technological age of texting, their typing speed far exceeds ours. Therefore, if allowed at school, we encourage your high schooler to try typing out their notes in class.

2. Note-Taking Techniques for Different Subjects

Cal Newport, author of How to become a Straight A Student, offers different note-taking strategies based on technical (Math, Science, Accounting, etc.) and non-technical (History, English, etc.) subjects.

Newport emphasizes that technical subject notes should capture detailed explanations of problems and their solutions, and should contain as many sample problems as possible. For non-technical subjects, Newport suggests sequencing notes according to the questions raised in class, the evidence provided, and the main conclusions. An example of a question would be 'What were the main events that led to the French Revolution?'.

These templates are useful for high schoolers to start practicing taking organized notes.

3. Try the Cornell Method

The Cornell Method in note-taking, developed by Professor Pauk Walter, is another commonly used technique with proven success. Walter suggests sectioning off your page into cue, notes, and summary.

In the notes section, the aim is to capture what the teacher says and writes on the board during a lesson. However, this is not a transcription so it is important to focus on only capturing the key details.

The cue section is for questions and comments that relate to the content captured in the notes. This section helps to organize notes into topics, which your high schooler can use to quiz themselves when studying their notes.

The summary section comprises a few sentences that capture what was learned in the lesson. The importance here is for your high schooler to translate what they learned into their own words, consequently solidifying a deeper understanding of the work.

Final Thoughts

Note-taking as a study skill has been shown to help high schoolers and students succeed academically. However, we recognize that note-taking is a skill that does not always come naturally to everyone. Therefore, we aimed to provide some helpful tips and tricks that we have come across during our research when developing Coachbit's Note-taking Modules for our students. We encourage your high schooler to practice some of these techniques, improve their confidence in their note-taking skills and ace those tests!


Note-Taking With Computers: Exploring Alternative Strategies for Improved Recall 

Cal Newport, How to become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less

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