Brain Train: Studying for Success

By Richard Palmer | Go to book overview
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Notes are often necessary, but they are necessary evils.

Samuel Johnson

Very few students, I find, have ever been given early, systematic advice on how to take notes. Some manage to develop a technique that is sound and helpful; but the majority are less fortunate. As a result, their approach to note-taking describes one of two equally unsatisfactory alternatives: the 'grudging' or the 'evangelist'. See if you recognize yourself in either of these portraits.


These students regard note-taking as a pain. They'd go along with Johnson's remarks, except to find him far too tolerant in calling the practice 'necessary'. They buckle down to it eventually, but they neither enjoy it nor find any value of stimulus in what is always and only a mechanical chore. In addition, their method and format are identical to any 'class notes' their teachers may dictate-cautiously and clearly spaced, written in formally correct English, and taking a long, joyless time to complete.


For these students, note-taking is the magic elixir. They are convinced that all they need do is write everything down, and it will through simple alchemy become fixed knowledge. Their reverence is further demonstrated by their view of the printed word, and of the spoken word of teachers: they are the academic equivalent of the Eucharist, profoundly present as soon as experienced, an automatic and immediate source of strength and wondrous new knowledge.

Such enthusiasm is so uncritical that it becomes self-cancelling at best and a serious impediment at worst. A normal student who encounters a joke while reading will laugh; the 'evangelist' will instead write


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Brain Train: Studying for Success


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