During your time as a pre-medical or medical student you will be taking a lot of notes during your day. Due to the amount of information usually presented to you at medical school, whether from a lecture or on the ward, it can be useful to gain good habits for note taking and to decide on what style of note taking works for you. In this article, we shall first look at why taking notes is important and look at different strategies for note taking.
Why take notes?
First and foremost, note taking provides you will a useful record of information given to you and can help recall information later on. If we look at cognitive load theory, there is only so much information that you can hold in your working memory at any one time and only some of that information will go into your long term memory. Therefore, note taking can help you write down all of the information which you might not be able to digest at that moment in time, but it is there for when you need it.
Note taking aids your understanding and memory. By selecting certain information to note down, you are focusing your attention on what you need to remember. By selecting that information, you are building on your own innate understanding and providing another level of detail to your knowledge bank. Summing things up via note taking also improves your long term memory, as well as the physical act of writing.
Strategies for good note taking
Generally speaking, the rules of good note taking can be summarised into these categories:
- Think before you write
If you are just noting down what is being spoken to you word for word then you are not paying attention to the information, just on getting the words onto paper. Take in the information given to you and decide what you need to remember about the facts given to you and make a note of it.
- Keep notes brief and organised
You don’t want to be wading through reams and reams of notes later in the day, so keep your notes brief. Only note down important points and helpful triggers for your memory. Keep your notes organised so you can understand them later on. One method is to note things down by chronology (when they happened) or by meaning (what they refer to). For example, you could note down interesting facts about your patients on a ward round based on when you see them (i.e. Bed 1, 09:00) or by pathology (Cardiology).
- Write phrases, not sentences
As mentioned, don’t write out full sentences – this takes too long. Note down helpful phrases which you will remember in the future.
- Use illustrations and colours
Make your notes interesting! Making your notes colourful or with illustrations makes them unique and helps them stand out, which makes them memorable!
- Link your points
Link up the information you note down. Use arrows, dotted lines or boxes to help link your points. Ideally, you want your notes to tell a story which you can remember and recall when needed.
So the next time you are on the wards, bring a pad and pen to hand, you never know what you’ll note down!