Notetaking is, depending on your persuasion, the best or the worst part of uni. There doesn’t seem to be an in-between, or anyone who feels that taking notes is just ‘meh’. It’s even worse when you’re doing a completely essay/writing based subject, such as law.
I’m no professional studier, although I have been at it for three and a bit years now. Here’s some tips for studying from me, that hopefully doesn’t result in sleep deprivation.
- Study ahead of the lectures
For this, I start in the summer, or the winter vacation. Either way, before the semester starts. Seriously. With all the reading in law, I read a few chapters ahead over the summer, and make notes from the textbooks before lectures. I don’t read the whole textbook, or go too wild with it, but now that I’m in third year teaching is mostly self-directed and through seminars, and really there’s only one or two contact hours per module a week. That means that I have to be prepared with my notes ready for that short time with the lecturer. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t prepared months ahead though- the week before is fine: read the chapters for the next week ahead of time and set aside some time in the weekend to do the seminar work, playing the long game of catch up is no use, especially because there’s no reading week this semester.
- Highlight your textbooks
I know, I hate this too. In first year I refused to highlight my books, paying over £200 for textbooks meant that I wanted to keep them in a great condition, in able to sell the book on after I was finished. But over second year, I found the easiest way for me to make textbook notes is to do two readings of a book: the first, to read and highlight what seems the most important. Then, to read the books again and write notes from the highlights. This makes information stick in my head a bit easier, and makes clear to me what information is important to prevent the words all blurring together. It’s even better if you colour code: cases in yellow, judgements in green, important facts in pink and basic understanding in orange. It means that I can’t sell the books after, or at least make as much money from selling them, but it makes it a lot easier for me to study. I now only buy one or two essential textbooks, and borrow the rest of the reading list from the library. It’s costly, and you can study without highlighting the books, but this is my routine, and it seems to be working.
- Keep notes on one big document, and save it everywhere
For each of my modules last year, I had a [roughly] 150-page word document of my lecture notes, which helped immensely. I copy-pasted the powerpoint information before the lecture and would add in the additional notes from what the lecturer said during the lecture. This made me feel well prepared, even if the copy-pasting was done just an hour or so before the lecture. I made sure the document was well formatted, with each subheading and heading making clear where the notes were. This made it so easy to utilise the search function to find notes on a specific topic, and was a lot quicker than the pretty handwritten notes that took hours to put together in first year. It is crucial to save this everywhere though, and have multiple backups of it. I had a copy on my Onedrive, Google Drive, my computer, a memory stick, and emailed to myself. At the end of the year, I printed these notes and bound them, I was really proud of my notes. This made it easy to further highlight the hard copy, and to create a summary for revision.
- Summarise, summarise, summarise
You may have heard of outlines. They are the most important way to study law in America, and they’re quite useful here too. I make a further document summarising my notes on a particular topic in bullet point form, outlining the most important parts. This makes it easy to remember when revising. I turn the word document to landscape, and put the page into two columns. This is just a nice format for the summary and in no way the only way to do it. Format your notes how you feel most comfortable, studying is always a very personalised thing. I do this the same week as I study the topic- so that it’s in my head, and this results in slightly less stress at exam time.
- Utilise good revision techniques
More of a general study tip than a notetaking tip, revision techniques don’t disappear now that you’re at uni. Apps like ‘Quizlet’ can be a lifesaver, sticking up important facts on sticky notes around your room, making mindmaps, whatever got you through school will get you through uni. It will definitely seem more intense, but you’re just looking at one subject in a lot more depth. Keep your head, make sure to eat, and if you’re struggling, reach out to some of the support available: email the enquiry centre for a chat with a student support advisor, make an appointment with the Academic Skills Centre staff in the library. You can do it, honestly.
It’s also good to keep in contact with the lecturers and your advisor of studies. If you are struggling with anything, they’re a completely accessible resource- just email them. I once sat with one of my lecturers for an hour and a half to go over a topic I missed: they might be a bit intimidating, but they’re here to teach us and help us learn, and they are usually more than happy to do so.
I believe in you! Get that degree