Note taking and Reading Strategies
The following notetaking tips apply to most chemistry classes (D. Hurst, CAL).
Reading all textbook assignments before class and carefully studying key words and sample problems greatly improve one's understanding of the lecture material and make it easier to take notes.
With the instructor's permission, tape the lectures and listen to them later to fill in empty spots in the notes and to enhance understanding of the main points of the lecture. Tape recording helps a great deal if a student has trouble keeping up in class with the notes. Listen to the lecture and concentrate on recording all information put on the board, including illustrations. Then listen to the tapes later and write down the important information presented verbally during lecture.
Illustrations and Terms
Pay particular attention to all terms, figures, and charts the instructor puts on the board. Record them in the notes. Be able to fully explain the details and significance of the terms and illustrations.
Choose an appropriate format for organizing lecture notes. The Cornell method, with its recall and notes columns, or the two-column method are highly recommended. Key terms, concepts, formulas, or questions are written in the recall column. Examples of chemistry lectures recorded in the Cornell and two-column formats are given below (REFERENCE).
If the student is unable to keep up with lecture and record illustrations put on the board by the instructor, and if tape recording does not help, try taking xeroxed copies of the illustrations from the book to class. It is often the case that instructors use the illustrations in the text book during lectures. If the tables, charts, and diagrams are already copied, then the student simply has to write explanatory notes in the margins. Sometimes it helps to enlarge the illustrations when xeroxing them. Cut out the enlarged visual aid and paste it on a blank piece of paper so that there is plenty of room for recording notes. This strategy is discussed in more detail in the Science Illustrations and Note taking section of the General Science page.
Recopy and Organize
If necessary, recopy and reorganize the lecture notes. This is often necessary when tape recorders are used to record part of the lecture material. When reorganizing, incorporate written notes, tape recorded information, xeroxed illustrations with notes, and text material. Notes may be put into the Cornell format after class.
Check for Accuracy and Completeness
To be sure that the notes are accurate and complete, check the content against the text book or work with other students in the class.
Approach the lecture notes as a series of answers to questions. Translate the answers into questions, recording the questions in the left column (if the Cornell format is used) or on flash cards (with the answers on the back). If you can't think of a question for a section of notes, put a "?" in the margin and seek clarification from the instructor or book.
Write the questions as soon after class as possible. If you generate questions while the information is still fresh, you'll find that the process of asking questions helps you focus on the essential material. Each time you go to lecture, your notes will become increasingly more organized. You won't have to work at organizing the notes. Since question-asking helps you understand things more clearly, you'll begin to anticipate the questions as the instructor shifts topics.
Write questions for all information recorded in the notes: names, terms, concepts, dates, numbers, symbols, formulas, and illustrations. Examples of questions generated for a Chemistry lecture are presented below (REFERENCE).
The SQ3R reading strategy is useful for reading most chemistry materials. When reading, one should pay attention to supporting materials like problems and illustrations (D. Hurst, D. Applegate, CAL). Additional reading strategies related to the sciences are covered in the General Science page of the Content-Specific Learning Strategies Main Stack.
The SQ3R approach is recommended for most chemistry courses. Begin by surveying the chapter to determine the major ideas to be covered and to activate prior knowledge. Surveying involves reading the introduction, section headings, and conclusion. Then form the section headings into questions that may be answered by the text. Read the text carefully for content one section at a time, paying attention to illustrations as they are mentioned in the text. After reading each section, recite to yourself the main ideas and key terms of the section. Record these main points in an outline or another organizational format. Or, record the main ideas in a reading grid. Review the chapter by rereading the summary and conclusion.
Be sure to pay particular attention to the illustrations (graphs, diagrams, tables) provided in the text. They often summarize whole sections of material and provide visual images that students may associate with the concepts presented in the text.