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The Art of Note-Taking


Note taking helps you make meaning from a text or briefing.

It’s important to summarise sections in your own words to check your understanding of it.

Write out key words and definitions. In some cases, you might like to create a quick reference list. You could do this from the back of your notebook.

Let’s be real, note taking during briefings is an art form – it’s not just about how fast you can write. The trick is filtering the key points and only writing those down.

A big part of effective note taking while in a briefing is how well you listen.

Listening tips:

  • Concentrate.
  • Analyse the message. Connect each concept to the bigger picture.
  • Take any lapses in the flow or breaks as an opportunity to make sure you have understood the key points.
  • Ask questions. If you don’t feel comfortable raising your hand mid-briefing, write them down to ask later.
  • Be objective. Try not to let your personal opinions of the person speaking cause you to miss the important lessons.
  • Find a motivation. If you don’t find the speaker or topic particularly interesting, concentrate on what value you can get out of the briefing.
  • Stay physically alert. You should be comfortable but not so relaxed that you are not engaged. This will also produce a better talk from the speaker – they will naturally respond to signs of your engagement.

Try to ignore the urge to copy everything off the slides. Instead, listen for the key points and write those down.

Develop your own shorthand, abbreviations that you understand can help you speed up your note taking. This will develop as you practice. It doesn’t have to be perfect or consistent – you’re the only one who has to be able to understand it later!

Review your notes later that day. Edit them to make sure you will be able to understand what they refer to later.

Writing has been proven to be more effective for memory retention than listening or reading. Anytime where you are actively creating, the information sticks in your memory better. This includes speaking aloud, drawing, and writing. Try reading aloud when you are going through your textbooks or Flight Training Manuals.

Handwriting is more effective than typing because you are more actively involved.

Rewriting your notes can help – this might be just making them neater, or you could expand on them by pulling together information on the same topic from different sources (e.g. write all your information about stalling from briefings, FTM, and textbooks into one section of your notebook). Use headings and subheadings to help organise ideas.

Compare your notes with a friend – they may have understood something more fully than you did.

Don’t be afraid of colour! Different coloured pens or highlighters can be a very effective way of both breaking up your notes and helping you find things later. You might like to colour code information – perhaps highlight in yellow things you struggle with and need to go over more regularly.

Do your own research into note taking styles – a quick Google search will find heaps of options and tutorials. Some methods include:

  • Cornell Method: divide each page into sections, one for notes, one for cues, and one for a summary
  • Outline Method: categorise information by levels of importance
  • Charting Method: create a matrix to show relationships between information
  • Sentence Method: writing complete sentences where terminology is specifically important
  • Mind-Mapping Method: visually represent information using bubbles, lines, etc

You might be immediately drawn to one method, or you may need to try out a few for yourself to see which one works best.

Remember: you will get better with practice. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself plenty of time to develop these skills. They’ll be invaluable for your study.