I wanted to share some note-taking tips I have from a long time of struggling to take good notes during lectures. I’m no expert of course, but I hope you can learn from some of my old mistakes.
There are two main things you want to aim for in taking good notes:
1.That you write down as many beneficial points you can get from the lecture
2.That you write them down accurately and without mistakes
Tip 1-Use Many Understandable Abbreviations
Use many abbreviations for common words to shorten what you write while still retaining meaning (such as w/ for with, b/c for because etc.) There are also ones you can make up for Islamic terms that you can change afterwards into their proper words. Just make sure the ones you use you can understand. Here are a few examples of ones I use during this course:
Buk-Sahih al-Bukhari Ha-ḥadīth
Mus-Sahih al-Muslim Ay-Ayah
AD-Abū Dāwūd Q and S-Qur’aan and Sunnah
Also for ayaat or aḥadīth you can easily find after class with the correct wording used by the speaker, or you have the book for, just reference them in your notes and insert them in afterwards.
Tip 2-Some Things You Should Write Word-for-Word
When ayaat, aḥadīth, companions or scholars are being quoted from (that you don’t have with you in handouts/ books) it’s important to get everything word for word since translations are delicate in capturing the meaning in Arabic. These are not good times to paraphrase or sum up what was said in your own words. Also take extra care in transliterating Arabic words that the speaker gives definitions for.
Apart from these times, the speaker often makes points or commentary that you can capture the meaning of in fewer words. Try to sum up the major points in sentences that are both concise and retain a lot of what was meant. Remember that a mistake can also be when the wording of something is off to imply something different than what the speaker intended.
Tip 3-Listen Keenly and Write Quickly
You want to do this while taking notes and keep moving forward so long as the speaker is talking. Sit in a spot with the least distraction and best hearing. I advise that if you miss a point to mark a star there, and move on to the next thing they are saying. And if you write something down but are unsure if it was accurate then put a question mark. But keep up with the speaker and don’t stop at what you are missed or unsure of or the holes in your notes will just keep growing. We all miss things so don’t stress about it.
Afterwards during a break return back to all your stars and fill them in with the help of others and return back to all your question marks and double check to make sure they are correct. Try not to harmfully ask others about what you missed while they are taking notes as you may be the cause of them missing things also. But leave a star or a question mark and patiently ask them afterwards.
Tip 4-Go back and Edit Your Notes Afterwards (if they are messy and you need to)
For notes to serve their purpose they should be both clear and useable. Here are three benefits of editing notes:
1.Editing is actually a form of revising because you can’t possibly edit them without thinking and remembering about what you learned during the lesson.
2.When you go to study them for one of the quizzes let’s say, you will make it so much easier for yourself to memorize and comprehend the material.
3.In the future insha’Allah when you will go back to read up on what you learned so that we actually keep the knowledge with us, you will have good notes to read through.
When you edit notes, you want to do so soon after you wrote them while the material is still fresh on your mind. Use underlines, bold, italics, numbers, bullets etc. to layout your notes in a clear manner. Fill in abbreviations and complete sentences that are unclear. Try to be consistent in how you edit and organize them so you can recognize things quicker. For example, if you put any words that are followed by a definition in bold and italics then every time you see this you will know here is a word’s definition.
Tip 5-Have a Few (Reliable) Note-Taking Buddies
Maasha’Allah, your brothers/ sisters can be a huge asset to you in helping you take or complete notes. You don’t want their help to the point where you don’t work to take your own notes, but in helping you to get what you missed while taking notes, or when you couldn’t make it to class.
A strategy me and my sister use when the material covered is too much to write almost everything individually is for each of us to focus on capturing certain things. We are both constantly writing of course, but for example she may pay extra attention to writing down the translations of ḥadīths while I may work more on getting all the points made in between them. So that way if there is a time the speaker is going to fast while talking about a ḥadīth where it’s too hard to get both its translation and commentary, she may stay behind to finish translating it even when he’s moved on with the commentary while I move on with him even though maybe I’ve missed some translation. Then afterwards we combine our notes and find we have insha’Allah everything we need. Agree beforehand what you and your note-taking buddy will focus on.
The more you work at it insha’Allah the better your notes will be and the more you can benefit. I hope others can add there note-taking tips as well. Even though their remains only two weeks left there is still reason enough to and insha’Allah they can help others during future conferences/ classes.