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Learning Tips Blog

  • Nicki M. Dakis

(Cornell University)




There are many ways to take notes. It's helpful to try out different methods and determine which work best for you in different situations. Whether you are learning online or in person, the physical act of writing can help you remember better than just listening or reading. Research shows that taking notes by hand is more effective than typing on a laptop.


Consider Your Purpose

Before you start taking notes, identify how you will most likely want to use them later. Will you need to:

· Study for a test?

· Provide ideas when you write a paper?

· Develop points for pitching your start-up?

Make your notes work for you, by identifying up-front what you need from them!


What Do You Write?

Students sometimes think they need to write every single thing the professor said. If this is you, be careful! If you focus on capturing every single detail, you might be missing the big picture. If you mostly listen during class and don’t write much down, you need to be careful too—when it comes time to use your notes, you may find that you don’t have much to work with.


What Are Good Notes?

Although different strategies work for different people, efficient note-taking strategies share some common features. Good notes:

· Include meaningful abbreviations and symbols

· Capture both main ideas and important details

· May include definitions, an outline, bullet points, diagrams, etc.

There's no one good way to take notes—knowing what works best for you in different situations will make your studying more effective.


Create Notes You Will Use

Overall, good notes are not necessarily very detailed or very brief—the main thing to remember is that good notes are notes you can use!

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  • Nicki M. Dakis



I discussed in a previous blog how to motivate yourself to want to learn. Without that motivation to fuel you, learning is much more difficult. So, once you’ve determined that you actually want to learn, the next step is to sit down and get focused.

First, you’ll want to make sure that you create an appropriate study space for yourself. You’ll need a quiet space with little to no distractions. In a home, a kitchen or dining room table is a good option if there isn’t a lot of activity going on. I am also a big fan of public libraries.


To make the most of your working session, be prepared: Do you have reading and writing materials? Is your computer charged? Will you need a drink? Sweater? Or a visit to the bathroom? Making a routine out of these preparatory practices can actually help trigger your brain that it’s time to get ready to focus

Now set a timer (not on your phone) for 20 minutes, and make a deal with yourself. If you focus on your work for only 20 minutes, you can give yourself a 5-10 minute “reward”: For example, you can look at social media, have a snack, or take a quick walk outside. After your “reward break”, try focusing for another 20 minutes to 30 minutes.


There are a few things that may get in the way of your ability to focus: Are you tired? Stressed? Hungry? Do you have a lot on your mind? Are you being pulled in several directions? Doing your best to keep yourself healthy and calm helps to lay the groundwork for your brain to begin processing new and complex information.


You will inevitably still have to overcome distractions or competing forces. It’s important to try to understand what is pulling you away from focusing (i.e. your cell phone), and then try to train yourself not to give in to it. It can be difficult to avoid temptation, but the more you do, the easier it gets.


I will write more about the things that take away from our ability to focus next. Stay tuned!


Nicki Dakis

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  • Nicki M. Dakis

Students sleep patterns need to be monitored.

Inadequate sleep is often the overlooked culprit for learning problems and poor behavior in school. According to the National Academy of Sleep Medicine, school aged children need anywhere from 8-12 hours of sleep per night. When a child doesn’t have adequate sleep, memory, mood and concentration are affected.


Sleep is an intricate part of the learning process. During sleep, the brain solidifies what it has learned that day. There is an increasing amount of scientific proof that lack of sleep affects the brain negatively. Most of us can attest to feeling foggy, irritable and unable to concentrate well if we don’t get enough sleep. The brain actually serves as a type of filter that cleans out toxins while you sleep. Without enough sleep, the toxins remain in the brain, leaving little room for new information to flow in. Matthew Walker, U.C. Berkley’s Director of Sleep Science states “When we compared the effectiveness of learning between the two groups, the result was clear: There was a 40 percent deficit in the ability of the sleep-deprived group to cram new facts into the brain (i.e., to make new memories), relative to the group that obtained a full night of sleep.”


If your student takes a down turn from being a top performer, their sleep patterns should be examined. According to author Eric Barker, “Take an A student used to scoring in the top 10 percent of virtually anything she does. One study showed that if she gets just under seven hours of sleep on weekdays, and about 40 minutes more on weekends, she will begin to score in the bottom 9 percent of non-sleep-deprived individuals”.


The largest causes of sleep deprivation seem to be computer or cell phone use for social media. Not only are students staying up too late, but many are going to bed with their cell phones within a too close proximity (i.e. on their pillows). If the cell phone or computer “dings” it can interrupt their sleep; and if they then begin to look at their screens again, their sleep pattern is interrupted further.

Getting to sleep is often a matter of routine- slowing down, turning away from “screens” at least 30 minutes prior to trying to sleep, relaxing and getting comfortable. Anxiety also causes us to stay awake, so learning how to relax through meditation exercises can be helpful. If that doesn’t work, try closing your eyes and listening to a non-stressful podcast (i.e. a Ted Talk) or calming music- but be sure to set an automatic sleep timer so it doesn’t wake you later.


The Week magazine recently published some useful tips on how to get back to sleep once you’ve been awakened: Don’t check the time; stay away from the phone; take a break from trying to sleep (read, stretch); and do some deep breathing exercises. The bottom line is, uninterrupted and quality sleep is not only necessary for our health, but also our brains.


Stay tuned for more learning articles in the weeks to come!

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