It’s a trope of this postmodern century and millenarian End-Times world that just about everything is designated as an “art” or “art-form”. Think “sandwich artists”, as if a stuffed roll, toasted or not, could suggest anything about your meagre existence other than its primal appetitive drives. Do we really think that munching on leavened bread will bring us to the same lucid encounter with the abyssal mirror of reality as Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, ever judgemental on the Sistine Chapel vault?
At the risk of committing the greatest act of hypocrisy since, well, anything said in the UN Security Council, I won’t claim note-taking, in the HSC or beyond, is an art-form. However, a caveat (which, if you’d taken your notes in year 8 Latin, you’d understand is a word of caution): you’d be a fool to ignore this short but informative blog post on note taking, so full of wisdom it may as well have been uttered by the Greek Goddess Sophia herself.
The fate of all your assessments heretofore will be judged almost exclusively on the extent and quality of your research and preparation habits. It is not enough to have merely read a text assigned to you. This is more than OK for your first reading, where you can exercise your right to enjoy a text unencumbered by intrusive and excessive thought. But you’ll have to revisit it with a pencil, pen or word document at some point to actually engage in proper studying. Although the mind is definitely nature’s most powerful creation, it is still flawed in many ways. The cognitive faculty of memory is one in particular. Computer hardware retrieval vastly exceeds human computational capacity. This means when it comes to extracting crucial information, the mind is incapable of coding it on its own, and it must be externalised in some form. This is where the ever-reliable world of notes comes in.
It is extraordinary that after repeated, failed attempts by the mind to retrieve information, students, well into their tertiary years even, fail to take adequate notes or notes altogether. This is the unfortunate reality for many students who contact Save My HSC. It makes it doubly difficult for a tutor to discuss a text with a student who has not compiled a rigorous collection of points and evidence from their texts, and thus has no point of reference for any of their own arguments. It shouldn’t require scientific methodology to state that there is an obvious correlation between note-taking, as an indicator of deep, personal reflection, and results.
So what to do? Before you start reading your text, always look at the syllabus for the relevant module you are looking at. Too many students are not familiar with the rationale and objective of a module. It’s all there, everything you’re being tested on. Remember that a thesis, your primary argument, is what you are ultimately looking forward to respond to the module. So your note taking must help you undertake your search for the eventual, elusive thesis. Always have it at the back of your mind.
Importantly however, don’t be stifled by this. Jot down any part of the text that you believe conveys some crucial meaning, and of course, what technical means it employs to do that. Compile the best quotes from the text, the ones which you think will help you mount your argument. Importantly, write down any idea you have in respect of the text. Do not censor yourself at this point, editing should always come later.
You should have amassed a jumble of evidence and ideas on how to apply that evidence in an eventual assessment. All you will have to do now is manipulate that content for any assessment that comes up. This means that you won’t be tested on the content of your ideas, so you won’t experience that dreaded writing block. You’ll only be tested on how you express those ideas.
Cognitive psychology has proven that proper, in-depth coding requires constant revision. Look upon your notes at the end of a week if possible. Notice how you always remember quotes from that film you’ve seen 5 times? It’s the same with your texts.
My High School teacher promised that if I took and revised great notes I’d be capable of retrieving it years down the line. It’s only apparent to me how right he was in retrospect. So heed his advice.
The trick is, will you remember all that?