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How to Take Better Notes in History Class
Thursday, February 26, 2015

Of all of the courses you are required to take in middle and high school, history may demand the most careful, diligent note-taking.  Unfortunately, history textbooks often complicate matters, as they tend to present an overwhelming amount of information in the form of text, sidebars, graphics such as tables, charts, and maps, and images such as photographs and illustrations.  On top of all of this information, your teacher presents his or her emphasis on historical events, facts, and dates through lectures, PowerPoint presentations, videos, and other methods of teaching.  

The question, then, is how do you go about organizing all of this information most effectively in order to prepare for the next essay or test? We’ve consulted with our expert history tutors, and here are four simple tips that will help you take better notes and get organized for that next major assignment.

Scattered Notes

Tip #1: Take straightforward yet thorough bullet-point style notes in class.

Some history teachers move through material in class quickly, so it’s important that you develop an efficient and systematic note-taking method that will enable you to thoroughly record the most important information.  Bullet-point style notes are an effective way to boil all of the information your teacher covers down to what’s most essential.  For example, if your teacher is lecturing on Muslim Spain, your notes might look like this:

  • Iberian peninsula ruled by Rome for 600 years beginning in 2nd C. BCE.
  • In early 5th C. CE, Visigoths invaded.
  • A group of Visigoths named the Vandals occupied southern part and moved into North Africa.
  • The peninsula then fell to Arab-Islamic conquest in early 8th C. CE.
  • The new Muslim settlers called the peninsula al-Andalus, which means “land of the Vandals.”

After the first few days of note-taking, check in with your teacher to confirm that you’re capturing the most important information.  Show him or her your notes, and ask for feedback.

Tip #2: Be sure to maintain a chronology of what was covered each day in class.

When it comes time to prepare for the next quiz or test, it’s critical that you’ve maintained an accurate record of everything that’s happened in class.  As soon as you have the chance after your history class, go back to your page of notes (which, by the way, should be labeled clearly with a date at the top), and write a brief bullet-point chronology of what happened in class as follows:

  • 10:00-10:10: Mr. M talked about the upcoming quiz on Medieval Europe.
  • 10:10-10:30: Mr. M lectured on the Black Death; showed us paintings on smartboard.
  • 10:30-10:40: Mr. passed out the HW reading and we read the first par. out loud.

Tip #3: Ask for copies of lecture materials or presentations, including links to websites.

If your teacher uses PowerPoint presentations or shows images from the internet, it’s well worth asking to have access to that material.  But, as a rule, you should ask for a copy of the PowerPoint presentation or URL address as respectfully as possible.  And, if your teacher says no, don’t press the issue; it’s your teacher’s right not to distribute his or her class materials.  In the the end, though, it’s certainly worth asking!

Tip #4: Compare your notes with those of a classmate.

You’re only human, and you can’t possibly record everything that your teacher does and says with 100% accuracy.  But your classmates may have picked up on certain details that you’ve overlooked.  Or perhaps they’ve noticed something in a presentation simply because they saw it from a different vantage point in the classroom.  In short, the old adage that “two heads are better than one” applies here: compare notes with a classmate, and add anything that you see in his or her notes to your own.

These tips are just a start, so be sure to check our blog again soon for more great study advice!