Tips for Memorizing Your Course Notes

By Danni White on November 27, 2017

As students, many of us often look for the best ways to study and/or memorize notes from class for a test that is coming up or for a paper that we have to write at the end of the week. It is kind of difficult to state emphatically which forms of memorization work best over others, simply because different people learn and memorize things in different ways.

via Pixabay

Some people learn best by seeing a video while others learn best by writing down what is being said. Still, others learn best by reading over things in a quiet space while others prefer to learn in a small group setting. Additionally, the way we learn can depend on the subjects we are studying. For example, you may tend to memorize facts of history in one way but mathematical formulas in a completely different way. A chart with numbers may stand out in your head better than words on a sheet of paper or in a book.

In whatever way we learn, memorization will no doubt become a significant part of our preparation for tests and other assignments, such as speeches and debate sessions, as a few examples. There will be times in which you will need to have things in your head so you can think and perhaps, speak, on your feet, as they say. You don’t always have time to run to a book or rewatch a video or lecture. However, simply sitting down and reading and rereading your notes is not enough to truly memorize the material you want to memorize. If you go around a room of students and ask them what is the best way to memorize something, they will most likely say that it is repetition. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is important to understand, however, that if you want to be successful at memorizing the notes you take in class, there has to be a balance to note taking. If you are going to take notes, you want to make sure that you listen first, process what is being said, and then write out the basic gist of what you heard as completely as possible. At the same time, you don’t want to be so busy writing that you fail to hear what is being said. Have you ever sat in on a speech or lecture and were so busy taking notes that by the time everything was over, you really didn’t know what the speaker said? The result can be that you lose sight of the forest for the trees, meaning the overall context and lesson is lost because you were too busy paying attention to every minor detail. You don’t want to end up like that.

Elliot Aronson, a social psychologist well known for creating the jigsaw classroom, said once about his note taking and memory, “I discovered that I had never learned how to be a student. I didn’t even know the first thing about taking notes. I would sit in class, listening to the lecture, scribbling furiously. By the time midsemester exams came around, I pulled out my lecture notes and found they were virtually unintelligible.”

Aronson went on to show how he solved this problem in his education, “At the end of every class, I would find a little nook — sometimes even the nearest stairwell — read over my scribbled notes, and neatly summarize them in a page or two. At the end of the semester, when it was time to prepare for the final, my notes described the heart of the course.”

Further, Aroson divulged, “They revealed the scope and pattern of the professor’s thinking and the way the lectures dovetailed with the readings. I had taken the first step toward mastering the art of getting to the essence of a topic… I found I was also learning to love to learn, and, perhaps most important, I was learning to think critically and challenge unsubstantiated assertions. For the first time in my life I understood what it was to be a student.”

True memorization is not about being able to repeat everything word-for-word as you heard it, but about being able to collect all the information and put it into your own words so that you understand it, while maintaining the way in which the professor is trying to get you to think. Take notes, but be sure to review your notes, fill in any missing information, organize the notes so that they make sense to you, rewrite if necessary, and consult your textbook, classmates, or teacher if anything remains unclear.

Another good way to memorize information from class is to teach it to someone else. You can rehearse or re-teach what you have learned to someone else who needs help or who would like to learn the information you have learned. Or, you can simply teach it to yourself in front of the mirror or record yourself on video or audio for future reference. One of my favorite methods for learning new things and ensuring other things I have previously learned stick in my mind is by tutoring students in the same subjects. For example, I memorized much of what I know about grammar and English writing by tutoring students on the core concepts and ideas. This is a type of experiential learning since you are actually practicing the concepts and ideas you learn.

If the mind is a muscle as they say, the more the mind is used, the better you will get at remembering things accurately and completely.

Danni White is a developmental psychology graduate student at Liberty University. She works in the digital publishing, media, and technology industries. After this degree, she will go on to work on a PhD in social psychology in which she hopes to do research on perception and social cognition’s impact on human behavior. She hopes to apply this research in corporate HR departments and community-based organizations. In her otherwise limited spare time, she blogs, writes and reads. She loves coffee, sports, music, cooking, meeting new people, and binge watching Netflix.

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