Archive for the ‘Tips and Tricks’ category

Cornell Note Taking System

September 9, 2006

In my lecture notes post reader Ryan posted a comment on the usefulness of the cornell note taking system with a link to TheFlyerMan’s notebook page generator. This reminded me of a post I had intended to write about both these things. I too use the cornell method and the page layout generator (found here).

The Theory

For the uninitiated the cornell note taking method is just a way of organising your notes by dividing up your page. You rule a 2.5 inch (6.25 cm) margin down the left-hand side of your page and a 2 inch (5 cm) margin at the bottom of the page. This makes the page look something like this:

————————– [You’ll have to excuse the bad text “image”. I’m trying to cater

|     |                        | for those on dial-up and other slow internets and I’m also

|     |                        | having trouble inserting images into blog posts – I’m sure

|     |                        | I’m doing it all right but for some reason it’s just not

|————————-| working]

When you’ve got your page set up like that then, according to the letter of the system, after your lecture you go through and put your key words, things to note, questions and other important points/summaries in the left hand column (“cue column”) and summaries of what the page says in the bottom section. The website of the West Shore Community College has a good pdf document covering this and lots of other study skills – it’s worth a download and can be accessed from a link on this page.

My “Hack”

Now that you know the theory, I’ll let you know what I do. I use the traditional note taking layout except that I print the lines onto lined paper (the kind that goes in ring-binders) and because the paper is thin I print the cue column on the left hand side on the front of the page and the right on the back so that the line matches up (otherwise the line shows through the paper – petty, yes, but it bothers me).

I use the cue column pretty much how it’s supposed to be used (although I have a habit of filling it out in the lecture rather than after – not a great technique but better than not filling it out at all) but the summaries row I use differently. Personally I find that it’s not that useful to summarise the contents of one page since often information goes across multiple pages. Being a law student we get lots (and lots, and lots…) of cases and statutes and in the bottom row I will write the names of all the cases which are first mentioned on that page and a summary of why I need to know about it (that means each case is only in one summary row per lecture). This might look something like this:

Donoghue v Stevenson – fundamental case in tort-law. Outlines new test for negligence – is there a duty of care? Is it reasonably foreseeable that harm would occur from the defendant’s conduct?

(Note: I’m going from memory for that so don’t take that as a reasonable summary of that case if you happen to be studying it). I also do a similar thing for statutes and sections in statutes. This means that when I’m going back through my notes I can quickly see which cases were covered and the key points the lecturer thinks I should know (which are sometimes different from the key points got from the reading). You might like to put names of theorists and their theories, equations or key terms in your summaries row. Write a comment if you’ve got a good “hack” for the cornell note taking system or if you know of another good system which works well for you.


Welcome to Procrastinators Anonymous

September 8, 2006

One BIG problem I have is “just checking that website” or “just seeing if I can beat by high score” or “just reading a chapter of that trashy aeroplane novel” when I’m going to start studying (I think it’s the grown up version of “I’ll do it when I finish this level, mum!”). Here is a list of five things I must stop doing when I really should start studying. I’m hoping that by writing it down and putting it out there for all the world to see I might shame myself into not doing them any more – think of it like Procrastinators Anonymous, if anyone else wants to air their dirty laundry and share with us all what they need to stop doing, go right ahead!

I’ll go first:

  1. The internet – big, dark, scary place with way to many things which seem interesting and important at the time
  2. RSS feeds – must stop obsessively checking every five minutes when should be studying
  3. Daytime TV – Dr. Phil, Oprah, bad American sitcoms with laugh-tracks and repeats of Blue Heelers (Aussie cop show) are way to distracting and really not interesting enough to waste an hour of my life on
  4. Any book by Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Dan Brown or Robin Cook (this is not an exclusive list) – no indictment upon the authors themselves, it’s just that their books are way too distracting
  5. Bubbles – this game is ruining my life. I play it on my Rockboxed iRiver H320 and I’m now obsessed with beating my high score (somewhere in the 4,000’s – a bad thing)

Now it’s your turn.

Ways to relax without wasting time

September 8, 2006

When I’m not studying I find it waaaay too easy to “kill” my spare time by doing one of several things – playing stupid computer games, random internet browsing and watching daytime TV. Recently I’ve been making an effort to avoid those things and I’ve come up with a list of things I can do which are relaxing and fun but at the same time productive:
– read
– listen to podcasts
– write
– listen to music
– exercise

I think the key is to find something that doesn’t just use the time up but fills it. Obsessively checking e-mail and RSS feeds is not a time-using activity it’s a time-wasting activity.

5 Ways to make lecture notes more readable

September 6, 2006

Once you’ve spent many hours (or what seems like many hours) in lectures copying down words of wisdom flowing forth from the mouth of your lecturer, it seems a shame for them to be completely unreadable when you later go to review your notes. Here are five ways to make your notes (not just for lectures) more readable. These are written mostly for those of us who handwrite but the fundamentals are useful for computers too.

1. Handwriting
The minimum requirement for readability is actual, physical readability. There’s no point in spending an hour writing scribble. I’m not saying you have to have perfect handwriting but it must be at least able to be deciphered later on.

2. Colour
I’m a big fan of colour in my lecture notes. Not colour as in a gay pride rainbow of different coloured pens and highlighters (I save that for my reading notes!) but just two colours to add some contrast. Personally I use blue and red. Red for headings, key points, case names and legislation and blue for everything else. This helps to break up the big block of text. If you find two pens too much of a hassle try the four or two colour pens which are avaliable. If blue and red are too boring try a rainbow!

3. Use bold, italics, underlines and CAPITALS
This is easier on the computer but works on paper too. Typefacing techniques can help to make key points easy to read and find.

4. Brackets
One of my favourite tricks is the use of square brackets ([ ]). If you get lost, bored or come up with an idea which could win you a Nobel Prize then stick it in square brackets. This works for stuff like “[I’m lost], “[NOTE: reread chapter 4]”, “[See lecture notes for quote]”, “[I don’t get this bit]”. This way your lecture notes will make more sense when you re-read them. This helps to avoid plagiarism too because you can clearly see which are your thoughts and which are others.

5. Arrows
I love arrows. Arrows appear copiously in my lecture notes. I use arrows, lines and boxes to show links between ideas and key points.

Hope this helps!

[UPDATE: I still I’m still getting heaps of links to this site from Lifehacker and various other popular internet sites. For those of you who have visited from such sites I’d very much like to welcome you to my blog and invite you to have a look around at the rest of the site. There’s tips and tricks for university/school study and also productivity and other information which is more general. If you’re a fan of lifehacker, 43Folders and other productivity p0rn sites then hopefully there’s stuff here which would be of interest to you.]

Use your university’s resources

September 4, 2006

Todays tip is to use the resources your university offers. Most colleges/universities have two things on their websites and in the library/on campus: a study skills unit and a collection of books on studying and being a student. If you need help with your studies these guys are great to go to because, at least at my uni, there is a specific person for each faculty who can help you with your essay and exam techniques (not write the essay for you – just help). They know what the lecturers want and the standard of work expected so can help you understand this better too. If you’re too scared to talk to a real person then generally much of the information is on the internet which is easier to access. Along with this service practically every library (local or at your education provider) will have books on study skills. Try a keyword search for “study skills” and your faculty/major.

If your university doesn’t have such information available then others do have it. Here’s some links to some of the more useful school websites:

University of Victoria Learning Skills Program Handouts – I liked this article on concept maps
University of Chicago – a collection of many “virtual pamphlets” from lots of different institutions
University of Manchester – the information on self evaluation contains some useful stuff on knowing about your own learning style
Brunel University – a useful online electronic guide to “some of the best ways to study”
University of Sussex – general study-skill information
Study Guides and Strategies – not a university site but a very comprehensive site with lots of information about different ways to study for different subjects and various study systems

These are just a few of the many websites out there. A quick search of “study skills” and a university name will help you to find more.

Hope this helps.

Useful time management tips site

September 2, 2006

This website has some really useful time-management tips from students. I’m not sure on the origin of the site but the information is certainly very useful. One tip which is timely, I think, given that it’s back-to-school time in the Northern hemisphere is this one:

University is different from school
If you have come straight from school then University life will be very different, because there is a lot more freedom. This will seem great at first, but you also learn that in a way, it becomes more difficult than school (I am referring to the mode of study rather than the content of the study), because what you must learn is no longer handed to you on a plate. You must self-manage your studies and research the topics yourself. It is very easy not to do much studying at all in the first year, unless you are very self-motivated. If you are not, then try to help yourself by reading as many books as you can from the reading lists for your modules, or any books that are relevant to your course, even if you are not specifically learning about it at the time. It is good to discuss the issues you read about with others on your course. You need to form personal views about subjects, because if you can somehow personally relate to a subject area, then you are more likely to understand it. Even though your study is self-directed, you can still ask a lecturer if you do not understand something. A lecturer can help you to understand more fully, and advise you on the best books to use for your research. It is often difficult to balance study with other aspects of life. For example, some students have part-time jobs and/or families to think about, other students who have neither of these factors, may instead enjoy socialising a lot (usually in pubs and clubs). I think that this too is an important part of University life and life in general. Making friends and social action is an important part of social integration, and may even be relevant if you are studying a social science. Interacting with people also means that you can then study together and help each other. However, there should be a balance between study and other aspects of your life. It can often be difficult to self-motivate, so a good strategy may be to make up a rough timetable of your week, which allocates specific time slots where you should sit down and do some studying. Ensure that this time is quality time where you can really concentrate, away from family and friends, the TV or the radio.

This is something I wish I’d known when I started at uni.

Organising your favourites using tips for e-mail

September 2, 2006

43 Folders pointed me in the direction of this article by Glenn Wolsey with six e-mail tips and while I was reading it it occurred to me that these tips would work equally as well with web favourites. Like many students, I don’t get 100’s of e-mails but I do do a lot of internet surfing (both study-related and extra-curricular). So here’s Glenn’s tips modified for use for keeping favourites or RSS feeds organised:

6. Don’t check websites constantly – do it every two or three hours instead. This way you can spend 10-20 minutes in blocks reading new information.

5. When saving favourites put them in folders – if there’s something you want to read later or need to try then have a folder just for that.

4. For things which you just want to keep and don’t have an action associated with them then file them – “study”, “work”, “information” etc.

3. Always file stuff! Don’t just end up with one big list.

2. Don’t keep stuff past it’s “use-by-date”. If you save an article to finish reading it later then delete it once you’ve read it if it no longer interests you.

1. I’m not sure how you’d filter internet favourites… any suggestions?