Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Cornell Note-Taking System

I relied heavily on The Cornell Note-Taking system during my Cambridge undergraduate course because it forced me to make my own (great) notes. I learned this technique in first year of undergraduate and used it right through to my final masters year.

An interesting study found that students who reviewed their own notes outperformed students who reviewed notes given to them by their teacher. Several interesting studies have found that students who hand-wrote their notes learned more than those who typed them. The best notes are therefore hand-made, self-made and Cornell Style.

To make your own Cornell Notes, start by drawing a giant 工 on the page. The left portion should be around 7 cm wide and is called the Cue Column. This is where you’ll put your subheadings, all of which should be written as questions. In the larger column on the right, answer your questions by writing notes in the usual manner. Keep the bottom four centimetres of each page as a summary or conclusion. Get a great Cornell notes summary sheet here.

Once you’ve made your Cornell Notes, use your Cornell Notes in the following five ways:

1) Record

During the lecture, use the note-taking column to record the lecture using telegraphic sentences.

2) Question

As soon after class as possible, formulate questions based on the notes in the right-hand column. Writing questions helps to clarify meanings, reveal relationships, establish continuity, and strengthen memory. Also, the writing of questions sets up a perfect stage for exam-studying later.

3) Recite

Cover the notetaking column with a sheet of paper. Then, looking at the questions or cue-words in the question and cue column only, say aloud, in your own words, the answers to the questions, facts, or ideas indicated by the cue-words.

4) Reflect

Reflect on the material by asking yourself questions, for example: “What’s the significance of these facts? What principle are they based on? How can I apply them? How do they fit in with what I already know? What’s beyond them?

5) Review

Spend at least ten minutes every week reviewing all your previous notes. If you do, you’ll retain a great deal for current use, as well as, for the exam.

Making your own notes is a very efficient way to learn. Any teacher who gives pre-made notes to their students is depriving their students of the opportunity to learn for themselves. It’s fine to give some notes to students as an example, but the vast majority of student notes should be written by the students themselves (even if they’re copying most of it from the whiteboard). Try the Cornell note-taking system for a week and see how it improves your understanding of Chemistry.

An excellent example of the Cornell note-taking system used in Chemistry. Making Cornell Notes made me understand much more in my Cambridge University lectures. Click for source.
Cornell Notes helped me enormously in my Cambridge University lectures.

Do you have a special note-taking system that works well for you? Do you prefer it when teachers give you notes? Do you know someone who uses a special note-taking method and achieves high grades? Let me know in the comments section below.

How to Read a Book

Source: Livinganawesomelife.com

Reading is the key to developing a comprehensive understanding of any subject by yourself. By the end of Year 12, you’ll need to have mastered the skills of independent readingnote-taking, and asking for help. Today, we’ll focus on the first of those key skills: independent reading.

There are three main types of reading: inspectional, analytical and synoptical reading. How you read depends on your purpose for reading.

1) News articles require Inspectional Reading

In a magazine or academic journal, skim over the headlines and pictures to find articles that might interest you. I recommend reading New Scientist as an excellent source of up-to-date science news. I used to read this magazine each morning before reading the day’s textbook chapter(s) while I was a student in Cambridge. Inspectional reading involves skim-reading then re-reading if the article is particularly relevant to you. You might even want to cut it out and keep it for future reference.

2) Your Chemistry textbook requires Analytical Reading

The key to analytical reading is to make annotations and excellent notes. If you’ve purchased a printed copy of the book, then you’ve purchased the right to annotate that book with ink, Post-it Notes® and highlighters. In difficult/technical sections of the book (such as the introduction page to NMR spectroscopy in Heinemann Chemistry 2), summarise each paragraph in 7 words or fewer in the margin. Transfer your notes to A4, lined paper and file your notes in an organised way. Note-making is the best way to learn while you read a technically difficult text such as your Chemistry textbook.

3) When you have an assignment due, you’ll need to do a Synoptical Reading of your source materials

When you need to build a bibliography, you’ll need to glean pieces of information from many sources and summarise them into your own words. You’ll also need to keep a properly-formatted references list to append to your assignment. You can read the entire text or just relevant parts – but make sure your reading is varied. Read books or articles from the references sections of books that are particularly relevant to your assignment. When writing your essay, much of the structure of the essay will ‘magically’ emerge when you link together in a logical way the dozens of sentence-long summaries that you created during your synoptical reading.

How do you read?

Is there a special reading/note-taking technique that works well for you? Do you make flashcards or mind maps? Let us know in the comments section below.

3 Skills to Master Before the End of Year 12

Master Reading, Note-taking and Asking for Help
1: Reading; 2: Note-taking; 3: Asking for help

Studying is actually really simple. Master these three simple principles while you’re in Year 12 and you’ll be on the path to excellent learning outcomes in university.

1) Analytical Reading

We learn the majority of our information by reading. It’s your responsibility as a student to make a careful, analytical reading of the textbook in order to understand all the concepts taught on your course. Beyond Year 10, the pace of your lessons will increase and you’ll find that simply paying attention in class will not be enough to gain a full understanding of what’s being taught. The earlier you master the skill of analytical reading, the more you’ll learn from your university investment. University lecturers don’t have time to explain all the concepts to every student in person!

Learn how to use a textbook here.

2) Note-taking

Annotate the textbook as you read it. Paraphrase and summarise your notes onto paper and organise them obsessively into large, lever-arch folders. Colour-code all your subjects: Chemistry has always been a ‘green’ subject for me. In lectures, don’t rely on the printed notes/slides provided by your lecturer. High-achieving students make their own notes during the lecture. Cornell Notes helped me enormously in Cambridge: master this skill if you want to thrive in university.

Learn how to take great notes here.

3) Asking for help

After Year 10, teachers will check your homework less frequently. Don’t use that as an excuse to slack off. As you grow into adulthood, you need to become a self-motivated learner. You’ll need to be proactive and get help when you need it. Share your assignments with your peers, attend group study sessions, and knock on your professor’s door when you want some advanced Chemistry questions answered. University teaching staff don’t have time to check every student’s progress all the time – but if you approach them and ask them for help, they’ll definitely be delighted to help you out. Make the most of your university experience by being proactive and asking for help.

Learn more about asking for help here.

That’s all there is to it!

Are there any crucial study skills I’ve missed from this list? What else do you need to master before you go to university? What do you wish you knew before you started undergraduate degree? Write to us in the comments section below.

How to ask your teacher for help: sample phrases

Students who ask more questions get higher grades

Asking for help can sometimes be a daunting task. Half of students aren’t in the habit of asking questions to their teacher when they need help – and it’s those students who get lower grades. Sending an email is a particularly good way to pose questions to your teacher because the teacher will respond when they have time. This means you might get a better-researched, more informative answer than if you asked them during the lesson.

But what should you write? If you want Chemistry help, try emailing your teacher with some of these phrases. Adjust each one to fit your specific situation.

When you want to arrange a time to meet

  • “Mr Kennedy, are you free period 7 tomorrow to go over Hess’ Law calculations?”
  • “Dear Sir, I’ve read through the textbook chapter and it still doesn’t make sense to me. Could you please explain it to me during a free period some time this week? Thank you!”
  • “Dear Miss, I’ve attempted some of the homework questions and I just don’t know where to start. Could I meet up with you this week so you can explain it to me? I’ve been reading the textbook chapter and it still doesn’t make sense to me! Thank you”

When you want your work marked

  • “Dear Sir, I’ve finished worksheets 3-6 on titrations. Could you please check my answers? They’re attached. Thanks!”
  • “Dear Miss, Do you have answers to questions 1-25 that we did on Friday? Or, even better, if I give you my answers next lesson, could you correct them for me? Thanks!”

When you want to learn a particular topic

  • “Dear Mr Kennedy, Could we please go over benzene rings in class? I’m not sure I understand them. Thanks”
  • “Dear Miss, Can we please do a summary of bonding next lesson? I think I need to learn this again before the test. Thanks!”

When you want more practice materials

  • “Sir, Do you have any more Unit 1 practice papers? I’ve finished the two you already gave us in class. Thanks”
  • “Dear Mr Kennedy, Do you have any practice questions on buffer solutions? There seems to be only one question on this in the Heinemann Chemistry textbook. Thanks”

When you think the textbook or teacher is wrong

  • “Dear Teacher, When we went through worksheet 7 in class, you wrote the relative molar mass of sodium thiosulfate to be 135.1. Isn’t it actually 158.1, which means the answer would actually be 0.309 M?”
  • “Dear Mr Kennedy, On page 185, the textbook has the structural formula for sucrose without a hydroxyl group on the sixth carbon atom. Could you please check it? Is the book correct? Thanks!”

When you’re absent from class

  • “Dear Mr K, Sorry I missed Thursday’s lesson. I was ill at home and missed two days of school. Could you please send me any work that I missed? Thank you”
  • Dear Miss K, I have a Biology excursion on Monday and therefore won’t be able to do the SAC. Can I please reschedule it for another time next week? Thank you”

Finally… when you want some specific Chemistry help

  • When asking questions to your teacher, it’s important that you number each question in the email. This makes it much easier for your teacher to refer to them in their response.
  • Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about asking for Chemistry help. Just send the email or knock on your teacher’s door. Don’t apologise for asking your teacher questions! It’s your teacher’s responsibility to help students: they enjoy doing this, and this is why they chose to teach!
  • An example “help” email is shown below.

“Dear Mr Kennedy, I have some questions about titrations:

(1) Why do titrations using 0.10 M ethanoic acid and 0.10 M hydrochloric acid require the same titre volume even though one is strong and one is weak?

(2) What’s the “pH range” referring to in the indicators section of the data booklet?

(3) I think I got question 4 wrong. Could you please check it for me?

(4) What’s the difference between benzene and cyclohexene?

(5) What are three different definitions of oxidation and reduction? I can only think of OIL RIG!

Thanks!”

High-Achieving Students Ask for More Help

Student performance graph

I’ve been there: the teacher has moved onto a topic about which you understand nothing, and you’re sitting in class waiting patiently for the next topic, which you hope you might actually understand. Students in these situations often shy away from asking questions in class because they’re afraid that they’ll interrupt the lesson for the other students. Most hide the problem and stay quiet until the next topic comes along. It’s sometimes only when the class sits a standardised test that the issue is even brought to the teacher’s attention.

Here’s some (modified) meta-data from students I’ve taught in the past year. I searched my inbox for the surname of every student I teach then counted the hundreds of questions they’ve asked me collectively since the start of the academic year. I grouped the students into quartiles and plotted the average number of questions asked in the last few months versus their current academic performance.

Results were shocking: not only did the higher-achieving students ask me more questions by email than the lower-achieving students, but the correlation was surprisingly strong (R² = 71%). This begs the question: do high achieving students get higher grades because they ask for more help? Is there a causal link between getting more help from a teacher and achieving a higher grade? Common sense suggests that there is.

What does this mean for you?

Students should ask for more academic support in order to maximise their learning. In particular:

  • Always email your tutor with academic questions. Number each question for easy reference in later emails.
  • Remember the 5-minute rule: ask for help from your teacher or tutor if you make zero progress on a question for more than 5 minutes.
  • Ask to see your teacher or tutor if you don’t understand something. Just ask them to “explain [topic] to me because I didn’t really understand it in class”. They’ll be happy to explain it to you.
  • Don’t get put off if your teacher seems too busy to help you right now. Just ask them, “do you have time tomorrow?” and schedule a more convenient time to meet.

In university, teachers don’t pay such close attention to the individual progress of each student. After Year 12, you’ll be mostly on your own. You’ll have to be proactive, take responsibility for your own learning and ask for help when you need it.

Are you a top-achieving student who learns all by themselves? What are your thoughts? Leave your feedback in the comments section below.