Mastering the art of note taking

Editors note: Hello everyone, Louie again. I figured the beginning of the year would be a great time to talk about the power of taking good notes in class. The quality of your notes greatly reflects on how well you do in class, and with classes getting more and more difficult as you get closer to graduation, there’s no better time than to brush up on your note taking skills. After taking a whole seminar over the summer on note taking, (I know, riveting). I wanted to share some information I had learned. As always, I hope you enjoy, and feel free to reach out to me @LOUIEZMICH on all social media.

 It seems simple enough, but taking notes that are efficient and effective is not a simple task. If you’re anything like me, professors talk so fast and everything seems so important, you end up writing so much down but never getting it all because your hand can’t write that fast. Note taking doesn’t just begin when you sit down in the classroom; it actually begins before you even go to class.

1. Read beforehand.

Unfortunately, you heard me correctly; you will have to read the book before you go to class. The reason for this, simply put, is your brain cannot function and comprehend brand new material when you’re being lectured simultaneously. Think about it, how many times have you been extremely focused in class and never had your mind wonder at all? Odds are, not many, so when you’re in class you want to have some idea of what is next to come.  This way you can write down topics that clear up what you didn’t understand before you came into class, and not write down concepts you already understood while reading before hand.

Now, before you go to class you do not have to read the entire chapter word for word, but what you should do is the following.

  • Read the first and last sentence of every paragraph, and make headers for each new topic in your notes.
  • Read and understand every bolded word.
  • Read the entire summary at the end of each chapter.
  • Make note of concepts and words you didn’t understand before the lecture.

See, that’s not too hard to do, but it is exponentially important before you go to class to have this mental mindset in place. You will never be caught off guard if you follow those steps because you will know what is coming, and have an idea of what is being talked about before you listen in on the lecture. This is also helpful because if you do doze off, or your mind wanders, you will know right where your place was in class as marked by your notes.

2. 24 Hour “Shot Clock.”

Now that you did all this preparation before class, it is crucial that you get into a routine (foreshadowing for the next post) of reviewing your notes no more than 24 hours after lecture. This is very important if your goal is to learn and comprehend the information. Unless you’re trying to memorize something to then forget it later, you what to actually learn the material from class. By going back and re-reading your notes, you still have a mental image of the lecture in your mind. Research published in the Teaching of Psychology Journal in the ’80s concluded that students were messing up on their tests not because they’d taken bad notes, but because they weren’t re-reading them before the exams. If you have the opportunity, and choose to record your lectures, make sure you follow along in your notes as you re-watch the lecture. This act of visiting your notes within 24 hours of your lecture is a great way to remember what you were thinking as you were writing in class. Make sure you ingrain that information in your head while it’s still fresh, that way the next time you have class, you will have already reviewed the material. By the time of the exam you will be able to recite your notes without looking at them. Which means no more cramming either.

3.   Be OCD with your notes, and be creative. 

You want your notes to be as professional and organized as possible. It will not benefit you at all if your notes are all over the place. You need to be able to sit down again and again and know exactly what you wrote down and when. Simple things like headings, dates, and titles are perfect with keeping on task with your notes. Your notes should have a variation for your own style, but should look slightly organized like this:

How to become a better person                             09/02/2015

  • Read good blog posts.
    • Louie Zmich has great ideas
  • Go to a great college
    • Northern Illinois University has great degree programs

Why becoming a better person is crucial in life

  • Better people have more friends
    • Studies show, this is because people will like you
  • Better people, are healthier people
    • You wont be stressed about how people don’t like you


In order to become a better, healthier, and more popular person, you must be enrolled with NIU and read Louie’s blog posts.

With notes like these, all joking aside, you will be more organized and know right where your thoughts were on every topic. You also want to include pictures in your notes as well. Drawing releases a lot of your creative side and inspires your mind to capture the thought better when something is drawn out. Make an image on paper to enhance the idea that you are trying to capture in your notes.

 4. Take Breaks.

The typical meeting format of continuous talking and     simultaneous scribbling might not be ideal for optimum note taking. It turns out that everyone might not listen and write well when trying to do both at the same time. The Journal of Educational Psychology researched lecture structures and found that incorporating periodic short breaks greatly improved the quality of notes taken. One way to approach this would be to have little moments of quiet writing reflection in between meeting agenda items. Wouldn’t that be pleasant?

I think it’s time for everyone to stop cramming before exams and to start being prepared before the exam date comes around and sneaks up on you. Even though that is a loaded statement, hopefully if you follow these tips you will eventually be a master note taker. Everyone has had that feeling of accomplishment when walking out of a lecture actually understanding what went on. You feel secure and ready for the exam, and that was just after one lecture. Imagine having that feeling all the time because you were ready before, during and after the lecture by being prepared and great at marking down your lectures.

I hope this has been some help to you, and hopefully this year has been made a bit less stressful by the power of note taking.

As always, thank you and don’t forget to be awesome today,


10 Study Tips for Final Exams

With Thanksgiving Break coming quickly and finals week right around the corner all of us here at the Northern Illinois University College of Business thought it would be wise to provide all of you with some study tips for final exams. Don’t fear because we are about to present you with 10 basic keys to success.

NIU College of Business students working hard.

NIU College of Business students working hard.


1) Always prepare for tomorrow in an effort to make the most efficient use of your time.

2) Create study groups! Technology has made it extremely easy to do this at anytime from anywhere.

3) Establish a routine by setting aside specific time for school work and focus.

4) Find a quiet space where you can separate yourself from distractions.

5) Have a backup plan. Be sure to save that final paper on an external drive in addition to your computer in case things go wrong.

6) Maintain a master calendar to stay on top of assignments and not fall behind.

7) Stay organized by using folders both on your computer and for any printed materials as well.

8) Stay positive and remember why earning your degree is worth all the hard work.

9) Take a break and come back refocused.

10) Use checklists to ensure you are completing assignments on time and feel the satisfaction of checking each assignment from the list.

For additional academic support resources which range from tutoring and assistance services to academic opportunities and programs check out the link below or contact the Office of Student Academic Success.

For more study tips that we have shared on this blog check out the links below.




Don’t Panic: Top 15 Tips for Finals

Editor’s note:  Don’t panic, but finals week is just days away.  The good news is there are a variety of great ideas to help you cross the finish line. Check out these Top 15 Hot Tips for Finals, listed in US News Education.  We curated and rephrased the advice here (below). Also be sure to check out NIU’s De-Stress Fest on April 30th!


Top 15 Study Tips

1.  Use Bite-sized Study Strategies.  If you have 7 days until a final, don’t wait until the 11th hour to start cramming.  Do this instead:  “…divide the course into sevenths and study two weeks’ worth of lectures each day.”

2.  Protect your Time and your Focus.  Here’s where your time management skills *really* come into play.  Drop any unnecessary or any time-consuming social activities so you can use that time to focus on your studies.  Every moment counts.  According to the list on US Education:  “…Even a few strategically placed extra hours can make the difference between doing just OK on finals and doing a really great job.”

3.  Face your fears.  Instead of studying an equal amount for each final, look at all of your finals and figure out which courses are the most challenging for you.  If you know a final exam is going to be difficult, evaluate how well you know the material (be honest with yourself).  Then, if you need to, devote more time studying for the difficult final exam and spend less time avoiding it by focusing on other courses that you are strong in.

4.  Get a lay of the exam terrain.  Ask your professor to share what’s likely to be on the exam.  Readings?  Discussions?  Material from lectures?  Is it comprehensive or will it cover only a certain number of chapters?  When you know the context for the final — the extent and the boundaries — you can organize and structure your studying.

5.  Understand how your professor asks questions.  Ask your professors about the approach she or he will take with questions.  Will the final be a big question or two?  Or will it be a series of focused questions that cover specific material in the course?

6.  Study examples.  If your professor ever said — “That would make a good final exam question” — then you might want to “take the hint” and review that particular topic and example.  Other resources to include in your studies include Study Guides or Review Questions, most particularly if they are pointed out by your professor.

7.  Engage in Group Study or “not so much”.  If it helps you stay focused and on track, study groups are great.  If you find them more a distraction than anything, just remember it’s your time and energy that you want to protect so that you can do the work you need to do.

8.  Attend review sessions.  Eighty percent of success is showing up!  If your professor offers a review session, make sure to be there.  Review sessions are often the most under-used resources but can be the single biggest help to you.  When professors give you a review session, you get a glimpse into how they are thinking about a topic or what they consider to be the high points of a course.  Think of it as a cram session with your professor — and it’s really the only worthwhile cram session to take part of!

9.  Utilize your notes (when allowed).  If your professor allows you to bring your notes to class, make sure your notes are organized and clear.  That means take them out and look at them.  This will also reinforce the material and the refresher — along with clean notes — will make it more likely that you will express your ideas clearly and well during exam time.

10.  Size up the test right when you get it!  Before you start answering questions, take a couple of minutes when you receive the test to get a lay of the land:  how many questions are on it?  how much does each part count?   Then make a decision upfront about how much time you will spend on each question.  This will help you focus and help you manage your time during the exam.

11.  Write clear essay answers.  Unless your professor indicates otherwise, much of what is graded here has to do with the correct answer AND with how well you develop and explain your answer.  So develop your answers fully and clearly.  Oftentimes it helps to think about how you would explain your answers to a sibling or a friend who isn’t familiar with the topic.

12.  Help the professor to give you a good grade.  Professors grade upwards of 70 finals over a two-three day period.  Make it easier for them to give you a good grade by providing them with neatly written essays.  Your essay should:  make clear the question you’re answering and should begin to provide the answer in the very first sentence.

13.  Pace yourself.  Think of a final exam as a work session that is divided into sub-sessions.  Stay focused in each part and take each question one at a time.  Between parts, take a short breather for a few short seconds-minutes before starting the next part.

14.  Don’t panic.  Remember that most tests are designed to have some harder questions and some easier questions.  That means that the overall degree of difficulty will vary over a 2-3 hour exam period.  Ignore the feeling of a “roller coaster.”  Stay focused on the material and don’t dwell on how well you think the exam is going.

15.  It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.  Stay for the entire exam time.  Use any extra time to double-check your work:  go over your answers, proofread, or add more clarity to your essay answers.  Remember your goal is to help your professor to give you a good grade, so take the extra time to make sure the work you turn in represents you as well as it can.


Don’t forget to stay hydrated, eat healthy foods, get rest, and above all don’t panic.


4 Ways to Study Smarter

Editor’s Note:  We recently asked students on our Facebook wall for their suggestions on how to have a successful semester.  Here are some responses, all of them great ideas in easily digestible pieces that range from using an app to the extremes of going off the grid entirely. Check these suggestions out and see if any of them work for you.


  • Make a to do list of smaller, specific tasks so even if things like traffic (or Netflix) prevent you from getting the whole list done, you can still feel accomplished about all the tasks you were able to check off.  ~ Chloe Pooler, NIU Business student
  • I use the SelfControll app for my computer. I block websites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Buzzfeed, PGA, and other sites that distract me from studying. I usually set it for 5 hours so I can be as productive as I can without distracting myself.  ~ Liv Stanger, NIU Business student
  • When I’m studying for an exam, I disconnect the internet so I’m not distracted. ~ Dave Guilford, NIU Business student
  • I try to look ahead at future projects and then I plan accordingly. I normally make sure that I have things completed by Friday night in order for the weekend to be a breeze. If I put it off it just bugs me the entire weekend.  ~ Clayton Dean, NIU Business student