Topics, Main Ideas, and Key Concepts
I’m sure everyone heard of these three things in high school. But they aren’t just boring terms thrown out in an obligatory Academic Skills Course. When organizing notes from any lecture it is good to recognize the topic (what the lecture was about), the main ideas (subtopics explaining the topic), and the key concepts (details that explain the main ideas).
Organizing Your Notes
A way of organizing your notes is by dividing up material by topics, main ideas, and key concepts. I don’t know that most professors are clear enough in there lectures that you would recognize all three right off the bat. You probably won’t walk into a lecture and hear, “Now I am about to reveal the topic for today’s lecture! Then I’ll impart a series of main ideas that I will back up with key concepts. So, after I give you the topic, I’ll be off to main idea #1 and a number of key concepts that prove main idea #1.” Most likely you won’t even hear, “The topic for today is making sense of your professor’s lecture. Breaking down all the nonsense he spouts is key to this. Break down the nonsense, which is by ignoring all the random tangents he goes on and paying attention only to the parts that are relevant to the course, will help you understand a nearly incomprehensible lecture.” This isn’t bad at all. The topic is “making sense of your professor’s lecture.” The main idea is “breaking down the nonsense.” And the key concept is “ignoring all the random tangents he goes on and paying attention only to the parts that are relevant to the course.” If your professor is able to convey a lecture like this, then you need to prostrate on the ground he walks on and thank the Lecture Gods for this savior. The reality is that your professor will probably be a mess of tangents and poorly explained concepts.
Taking Chicken Scratch and Making Organized Notes
If you are hurriedly taking notes while in lecture, and they look like chicken scratch, try to review and fix them up later. Many people have heard that taking in-class notes on every other page of your notebook is a good idea. I agree with this advice. This allows you to fill in the blanks after lecture. Once you’ve reviewed your professor’s inane lecture via the chicken scratch your produced, you can reorganize the material on the blank page behind it. Try to identify the lecture topic (hopefully, this one was obvious). Then write a main idea under it and key concepts underneath the main idea. This is the time to make your notes something you can actually study off of. It’s a lot of work, but it will make life so much easier.