Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Peronsal Guide for How to Take Notes

Last week was the first week of my second year of university. My parents and my brother and I just had a discussion a few days ago on how important note taking is and the different ins and outs. I thought I could share how I take notes if maybe you struggle with that or you are just going into university and want some tips.

So, here we go, Alyssa's Tips for Taking Notes!:

1. Decide when to take notes

I know that in middle school and early high school years, all of my teachers told us: okay, get out a piece of loose leaf, and write this down, and then they tell you exactly what to write down. In university, that doesn't happen. Nobody tells you when you should write stuff down.
That then begs the question, should you even take notes? I would say usually the answer to that is yes. Even if all your notes get provided for you in the form of PDF slides or whatever, I think it helps you stay focused and attentive to what your professor is saying.

2. Know whether or not slides will be provided

Most of my professors use Power Point slides in their classes, and most of them upload them onto some sort of online database (there are a lot of different ones) where you can view or download them.
If my professor uploads them before class, I try to print them out and bring them to class. If the prof uploads them after class, I write down the corresponding slide numbers next to notes I'm making in my notebook.
If I know the slides are being provided, I don't write down what is on the slide. It's just a waste of time, since you get all that information anyway. I only write down all the extra stuff - things the prof adds or says, or even maybe some things that are pointed out in class discussions (depending on the nature of the class).

3. Determine what to write down
 It's a really good skill to know what is important to write down and what is not. I don't write down everything. If you write everything, you're not helping yourself at all.

But how do you figure out what's important? I think you kind of learn as you go, and it is also different depending on the class or professor. Here's some ways I use to determine what is important to write down:

  • If a prof emphasizes something, or says something repeatedly, I write it down.
  • Focus on big things. Key concepts, key terms, and summarizing sentences are good things to write down. A lot of little details can be left out. You don't want to go back to your notes after you've finished the course and say, "Why the heck did I write that down?"
  • Always have at least on example written down, just to help with understanding later.
  • A big thing for me is if the prof says something in a specific way that makes a light bulb of understanding go off in my head, then I make sure to write that down because I know it will help my understanding later.
Of course, sometimes you don't know what to write down, and later on in the course you realize you shouldn't have written something, or you SHOULD have written something, but that's okay. Like I said, you learn as you go, and then you know for next time. (In the meantime, ask a friend).

4. Do what makes sense for you

I was going to say "be organized" but really, just organize your notes in a way that makes sense to your brain. Notes are not solely to record the information you need to know for exams, but they should help you in your understanding of course material.

I write and organize my notes in a certain way, but that doesn't mean everyone else will be the same. I also have my own system of abbreviation, because as soon as you write the entire word "environment" out you've missed something important the professor said. But really, you just want to be able to look at your notes later on and be able to say, "Okay, this helps, this makes sense." What you don't want to say is "What does this mean?"

What are your own personal tips for note-taking? How do you take notes? Do you use a computer or a pen and paper? (I prefer pen and paper, but sometimes profs talk SO FAST it's helpful to use a computer).

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Filling Up Your TBR List

The final week before school started, my family went to the lake. It's been an annual thing for years now in our family, but the best thing about this particular week this year was it gave me the chance to read more books than I had almost all summer. Some of the books I read made an impression on me, and I wanted to share about them with you, because books are cool, and you should read them.

1. UNTHINKABLE by Nancy Werlin

I read the companion book to this, IMPOSSIBLE, which is about the song of Scarborough Fair, and some curse or something that goes with it. It was such a weird, unique book that left an impression on me so much so that it's one of the few books that I actually still remember reading. UNTHINKABLE isn't as good, but it's still strange and weirdly intriguing. (Also: Twilight has nothing on the relationship in this book, a 400-year-old getting together with a 23-year-old. Aside from that, it was good.)

2. CHARM AND STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn

This book was AMAZING. At first, I grumbled about it because I thought it was a werewolf story (I'm not hugely into werewolf stories). But it is SO MUCH MORE than a werewolf story. The writing is brilliantly done, so beautiful and subtle and gaaah just amazing. Stephanie Kuehn is talented. It's a very, very painful book though, just to warn you. But despite the heavy topic, I love books that can rip those kinds of raw emotions right from your core. I also love books that make me think, and this one definitely did - a lot. I had a book hangover for a week and a half from this one. You should definitely check it out. I think it is a very important book, and it is one hundred percent going on my list of Best Books of 2014.

3. WHAT CAME FROM THE STARS by Gary D. Schmidt

Gary D. Schmidt is in my opinion the model of what a middle grade author should be. He writes MG so well. WHAT CAME FROM THE STARS was no OKAY FOR NOW, but it was still good. The characters are so beautifully average kids, the writing is so eloquent and perfect, and there are always little gems of humour in all of his books. Gary D. Schmidt is definitely one of my favourite authors. I would recommend all of his books to middle school kids everywhere, especially this one.

4. THE WINNER'S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski

I already talked about this on my What's Up Wednesday post, but the Megan Whalen Turner fans and the hype are right: you should read it.

What are some books you read recently that you'd recommend?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

Since I haven't really been around much on the blog, I thought I'd give you an update. What better way to do that than in a What's Up Wednesday post?

What I'm Reading

It's better than the girl-in-dress on the cover leads you to believe, don't worry. The Winner's Curse is a fantasy about a people who where conquered by another people. I'm almost halfway through, and it's really interesting. I love the characterizations of the two main characters, Kestrel and Arin. It was actually recommended to me by a bunch of Megan Whalen Turner fans, and I think they were right to recommend it! Since I was at the lake this past week, I had time to finish a bunch more books, but I think I'll make a separate blog post about those.

What I'm Writing

Nothing at the moment, because a week ago I FINISHED MY DRAFT! It's actually the fourth draft of a book I've been working on since I was in grade 11, which is almost four years ago now. Obviously, I haven't given up on it yet. Now I'm trying decide what I want to work on next. I have one book that I could outline, or another that I could rewrite. Not sure. Oh, and if you're looking for a critique partner at the moment, maybe we could swap MSs. You can contact me at kazuntai101[at]gmail[dot]com or contact me on Twitter @asherlockwrites.

What Inspires Me Right Now

This video directed by Yulin Kuang, inspired by Neil Gaiman's Dark Sonnet, is beautiful.

Also, I was at the lake last week with my family, and on our second last night there, my dad and I went canoeing just before sunset. It was the perfect time for canoeing. The lake was calm, there was barely any wind to struggle against, and there was a breathtaking sunset to behold.


What Else I've Been Up To

I finished my summer job a week ago, spent my last week of summer at the lake, and now tomorrow is my first day of classes. I actually transferred universities this year, so I'm starting a new school again. It's not that bad, and it's actually nice because now I only have a 20 minute bike ride to school instead of an hour bus ride. I'm also excited because my classes seem interesting enough, and different than the general stuff I took last year, which was mostly stuff I'd already taken in high school like English and history. Other than that, I am doing nothing unrelated to reading and writing. :)

If you want to get more regular updates from me, you can follow me on Twitter @asherlockwrites.

What about you? What have you been up to?


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