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Knowing When to Take Notes

To become a better note-taker you must know when to take notes and when not to take notes. The instructor will give cues that indicate what material is important Some such cues include:

  • presenting usual facts or ideas
  • writing on the board • summarizing
  • pausing
  • repeating statements
  • enumerating; such as, “1, 2, 3” or “A, B, C”
  • working several examples of the same type of problem on the black- board
  • saying, “This is a tricky problem. Most students will miss it.” For example, 510 is “undefined” instead of “zero.”
  • saying, “This is the most difficult step in the problem.”
  • indicating that certain types of problems will be on the test, such as coin- or age-word problems
  • explaining bold-print words

You must learn the cues your instructor gives indicating important material. If you are in doubt about the importance of the class material, do not hesitate to ask the instructor about its importance.

While taking notes, you may become confused about math material. At that point, take as many notes as possible, and do not give up on note-taking.

As you take notes on confusing problem steps, skip lines; then go back and fill in information that clarifies your misunderstanding of the steps in question. Ask your tutor or instructor for help with the uncompleted problem steps, and write down the reasons for each step in the space provided.

Another procedure to save time while taking notes is to stop writing complete sentences. Write your main thoughts in phrases. Phrases are easier to jot down and easier to memorize.


E.G.for exampleDshows disagreement with statement or passage
CF.compare, remember in contextREFreference
N.B.note well, this is importantet aland others
Ìimplies, it follows from thisetc.and so forth
>greater thanVsee
<less thanVSsee above
=equals, is the sameSCnamely
¹does not equal, is not the sameSQthe following
( )parentheses in the margin, around a sentence or group of sentences indicates an important ideaComm.Commutative
?used to indicate that you do not understand the materialDis.Distributive
0a circle around a word may indicate that you are not familiar with it; look it upA.P.A.Associative Property of Addition
Emarks important materials likely to be used in an examA.I.Additive Inverse
1, 2, 3to indicate a series of factsI.P.M.Identity Property of Multiplication

By Paul D. Nolting, Ph.D., Winning at Math, 1997

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