To be an effective independent learner, you need to keep a quality record of what you are learning. We all need a point of reference, whether it's for exams or to lay the foundations for further education.
If your notes are the foundation for your exams, then it's useful to have the bigger picture in mind of the steps you need to take before you put pen to paper:
Consolidation of your notes
Consolidation means bringing together. It means putting information into a format that's clear and easy to remember. This is how you relearn what you have been taught.
Learning is a process so avoid racing ahead to rote memorising, as this will be quick and easy once you've achieved step one.
So how do we consolidate our notes? Let's start with the basics: Choose a topic from any subject area. Put all your class notes on this topic together, whether it's your work or other information. If there's a relevant chapter on this topic in your textbook, get that ready too. Your job is to focus on developing your knowledge, understanding and skills related to this topic. Let's start with knowledge:
Read the information. Make sure you get into what you are reading. Focus on its meaning, not just the words. Think as you read. Use your imagination to paint a picture in your mind of what is on the page. Read aloud if that helps you to engage with the information.
Highlight anything you feel a little vague or rusty on. It could be a key word or term, or an explanation that, at first glance, you don't understand.
Seek clarification about information you are unsure about. You could ask your teacher or a friend. You could access another source in your school library or by a simple search using the internet. Just make sure it's an accurate and trustworthy source of information.
Enjoy the process of gaining knowledge. Although you are preparing for exams, keep an open mind and feel good about learning. If you come across things that particularly interest you but are slightly off topic, jot them down in an "inspiration pad". You can always return to them later. As you read, check your understanding of the information: Break the information down into questions. Good questions always begin with these prefixes: what, how, why, who, when or where. This is a way of testing and handling the information. It's what the examiners do when they are debating which questions to include in your exam papers. They can't ask you everything, so they select.
Create a learning format that suits you. Stacks of notes need to be broken down into a format that you can eventually memorise. To prepare for this stage, begin by:
Using coloured highlighter pens to emphasise main points
Putting tabs on pages for easy reference
Thinking about symbols you could use to summarise a key term or summary of information
Master the skills for each subject. Just like a skilled footballer needs to know how to manage the ball, students need to know how to handle information. It is essential you know the skills your exams are testing for. Skills are a way of checking your knowledge and understanding. Yet this is done in a myriad of ways, depending on the subject.
What questions tell you about skills
As global trends in education move towards thinking skills, exam questions are moving towards more open-ended topics such as:
This style of questioning relates to your understanding. Each question above in some way or other relates to the what, how, why, who, when and where of material you have relearned. Applying your understanding is a skill in itself.
Make a start
Produce a mind map for each major topic you are learning. Mind maps look a bit like a brainstorm or spider diagram, but may include more details and symbols. Colourful lines draw connections between ideas. They are said to boost memory because they appear radiant.
Go to the Links page on the Mindexplosionbook website to find some examples. To produce detailed mind maps, visit Mindmeister.com.
Verity Aylward has been a secondary school teacher for more than 10 years. She is the author of the book Mind Explosion: Max Out Your Brain for Exam Success. For more information about the author and her book, go to www.mindexplosionbook.com