Welcome back to How To Take Good Notes.
In part 1, we talked about using the META Method:
In part 2, we went over the 6 areas of focus when taking notes, namely:
Notes: Ideas or thoughts from your study in your own words.
Quotes: Extractions from the material in the author’s words.
Anecdotes: Stories and examples from the material to support claims such as stats, studies, and charts.
Claims: What claims are made by the author and how are they proven?
Names: Names of places, people, and events that are worth remembering.
Frames: What frame is the author using to convince you of the material? Notate any bias or predispositions that may color the material.
Now we will move on to further look at what sort of information should be gathered both during and directly after the consumption of knowledge information.
How To Take Good Notes For Long Term Memory
These are the three areas you want to focus on in order to remember information for the long term. These aren’t so much traditional notes as they are thinking about the material and looking for ways to further explore it.
Whereas notes are about writing down what you are learning, this strategy is thinking about the material and working to draw conclusions or set yourself up for future resarch.
Here are the three areas to add to your note taking system in order to better learn and retain information:
How To Take Good Notes Strategy 1: Questions
As you read the material and even after you are done, you should be consciously thinking about the material in the PDF, the textbook, or on audio. You want to inundate your mind with this material so you can better absorb it and transfer it to long term memory.
One of the best ways to do that is to ask yourself questions. As you read the book, start jotting down questions as they come to you.
Questions to ask yourself include:
- Do I believe this?
- If this is true, what else might be true?
- How could I prove this right?
- How can I prove this wrong?
- What other books or material should I read to learn more about this topic?
Obviously, the questions you ask are going to be dependent on the material and your level of interest. But I will say this. Usually, the more questions you can ask the better.
Perhaps the best part of asking a lot of questions is that it gives you a chance to practice active recall which is an excellent strategy for remembering what you’ve just read.
How To Take Good Notes Strategy 2: Lessons
This is a very powerful way to learn and remember. As you read through the material and reflect on it afterwards, think about the lessons you have learned. Also think about other material referenced by the author.
A good author will have linked to numerous studies, other books, online articles, and more. Each of these references are the author’s “source material” and most likely contain a lot more information about the topic you are studying.
You should take note of all these other references and pursue them afterwards. Things to check for include:
- Does the study referenced actually back up the author’s claims?
- What other lessons can you take away from this source material?
- What could the author have written differently if he wanted to make the opposite argument?
- Do you trust the source material as accurate?
The other thing you want to do as part of this note taking strategy for long term retention is to make an attempt to create your own lessons that you have learned during your time with the book.
This doesn’t have to be elaborate by any means, but it should be written in your own words and it should be thorough enough that you could actually teach it to someone else, preferably a child if possible.
The practice of creating a lesson and then actually teaching it, is really the best way possible to learn. Check out this tweet from David Perell.
When we create content for others to consume, we are forced to organize the information in our minds and reorganize it in a way that is easy to understand and share. The value of doing this is without equal in the “learning” game.
Here’s a further video from Vlogger Shu Omi, on the importance of producing more than you can consume. He also lays out a strong argument for producing as you go.
Note Taking Strategy 3: Connections
Finally we turn our attention to Connections. During this phase you are looking for things that help you connect the information you are learning about to other things you already know.
This is a great way to turn information into knowledge. In fact, we remember things easier if they are connected or linked to knowledge we already know.
As you can see in the image from @gapingvoid, the difference between information and knowledge is connection. The more you can connect new ideas to existing knowledge the better the odds are you’ll remember it.
This is what makes it easier to learn related fields. Imagine if you spent years studying water and plubming. You would understand the flow of water, pipes, pressure, etc. Now, think if you had to learn electricity.
Even though they are two very different fields, you would look for ways to connect the two ideas together. You could start with the idea that electricity “flows” in a current, just like water. Water takes the path of least resistance, so does electricity.
This makes it easier to remember and eventually apply your newfound knowledge.
Here are some of the Connection Questions you can ask yourself to look for connections that might not at first appear obvious:
- What does this remind me of?
- What word(s) in this book jumped out at me that I can apply to other fields?
- What field that I’ve previously studied does this most remind me of?
- What are some metaphors I can think of to describe what I’m learning?
- If I had to describe this using an analogy, what could it be?
Granted, these are tough questions. Making connections is one of the biggest leaps when it comes to “creating” knowledge. But you can do it. And the more you do it, the easier it will get.
In many ways, these Connections will turn into new ideas over time. You can start writing these notes down into small, bite sized, atomic notes that stand alone. These notes can be used when you write future articles or books, or serve as inspiration to new ideas you may have not stumbled upon yet.
You Can Do This!
I know this part 3 section is tougher than the first two. If you are looking for just a way to take notes that don’t really get used, you can skip this section altogether. But if you’re reading this blog post, I doubt you’re that type of person.
You just need to take time to think as you read and after you read. A big part of reading for future knowledge acquisition and application is thinking. Sadly, we aren’t told this much so we don’t think of reading as a form of thinking, but it is.
You need to let the words pass over you and through you. Extract what resonates with you, then devote time to searching for further questions, lessons, and connections.
Now that the book is done, we’ll move on to part 4. In part 4, we’ll talk about what to do immediately after you have finished this book or PDF or audio file.
There will be some crossover to part 3, but it will be worth it as this next step is about planning out your future learning while cementing in your brain what you have read or consumed.
Part5 – How To Take Evergreen Notes is ready for you. 😀