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Note Taking in Class

Systems and methods for better note taking that lead to faster learning.

What Happens After the Lecture: Learning

You may have taken great notes during the lecture, but how do you master the material from the lecture? This is when learning takes place. Studies show that students who review their notes later do better on tests on the materials (Kiewra, 1985). Several of the note taking methods require after lecture work to solidify learning.

Outline or Matrix?

Law students tend to rely on outlines, which is a reduction of their lecture notes into a hierarchical scheme, but studies show that a matrix or table format forces the student to synthesize the information and causes opportunities for analysis not evident in an outline model (Kiewra, 2002). From the examples below, you see that an outline is linear while a matrix is two-dimensional and localizes information better than the outline thus creating opportunities for analysis. The reduction to a matrix allows for a "snapshot" view of information.

Matrix Example:
Analytical Search Strategies
  Index Building Blocks Fish Net Search Within Unique Word or Term Footnotes or Pearl Growing
Search Terms 1 3+ Single term or concept enclosed in “ “ 1+ Single term or concept enclosed in “ “ 0
Boolean? No And, Or, Not No, but may be used And, Or, Not No No
Result Set Size Small Small Large Smaller Small Limited
Advantage Fast when term is there Thorough Thorough Narrows result set quickly Fast References are on point
Disadvantage Wrong Term Result Set too small Result set too large Terms too far apart Unique word not indexed Limited to that article; too many articles to follow the "pearls"
How to Overcome the Disadvantage Brainstorm multiple terms Remove terms connected by ANDs; truncate terms to get all forms of the word Narrow to a subset of a larger set. Use proximity connectors (same sentence, same paragraph, within x words) Brainstorm multiple terms Follow notes in articles most on point from the Pearl or use another strategy.
Example Dictionary term (“war on drugs” OR narcotics OR “illegal drugs”) AND (terrorism OR “war on terror”) AND “immigration law” "immigration law" (terrorism OR “war on terror”) [within “immigration law” set] "narco-terrorism" <none>
Outline Example

Analytical Search Strategies Outline

  1. Index Method
    1. Single word
    2. Boolean is NOT required
    3. Result Set Size is small
    4. Advantage: Fast when the term is there
    5. Disadvantage: You may have the wrong term for that resource
    6. How to Overcome the Disadvantage: Brainstorm more search terms
    7. E.g. dictionary term
  2. Building Blocks (law, fact, policy)
    1. 3 or more
    2. Boolean is required (AND, OR, NOT)
    3. Result Set Size is small
    4. Advantage: Thorough
    5. Disadvantage: Result set may be too small
    6. How to Overcome the Disadvantage: Remove terms connected by ANDs; truncate terms to get all forms of the word
    7. E.g. (“war on drugs” OR narcotics OR “illegal drugs”) AND (terrorism OR “war on terror”) AND “immigration law”
  3. Fish Net
    1. Single term or concept enclosed in “ “
    2. Boolean is NOT required
    3. Result Set Size is large
    4. Advantage: Thorough
    5. Disadvantage: Result set may be too large
    6. How to Overcome the Disadvantage: Narrow to a sub-set of the larger
    7. E.g. “immigration law”
  4. Search Within
    1. Single word
    2. Boolean is required (AND, OR, NOT)
    3. Result Set Size is smaller
    4. Advantage: Narrows result set quickly
    5. Disadvantage: Terms are too far apart
    6. How to Overcome the Disadvantage: Use proximity connectors (same sentence, same paragraph, within x words)
    7. E.g. (terrorism OR “war on terror”) [within “immigration law” set]
  5. Unique Word or Term
    1. Single term or concept enclosed in “ “
    2. Boolean is NOT required
    3. Result Set Size is small
    4. Advantage: Fast when the term is there
    5. Disadvantage: Unique word or term is not indexed
    6. How to Overcome the Disadvantage: Brainstorm more search terms
    7. E.g. “narco-terrorism”
  6. Footnotes or Pearl Growing
    1. Found article from another strategy
    2. Boolean is NOT required
    3. Result Set Size is limited
    4. Advantage: References are on point
    5. Disadvantage: Limited to that article; too many articles to follow the "pearls"
    6. How to Overcome the Disadvantage: Follow notes in articles most on point from the Pearl or use another strategy.
    7. E.g. none