Bearing all this in mind, I think I would summarise the key points to think about when making notes as such:
- Using electronic notes is useful to allow repeated re-editing of your notes as your go (I use Google docs to allow me to edit documents wherever I am).
- Try and rephrase/reformat the source material as much as possible. I use some general structures for my notes that I fit the source information into e.g. definition, classification.
- Creating flashcards at the end of the note making process serves as a good revision process in itself, helping with the consolidation.
A final, albeit slightly separate, component of creating cards is about using pictures. I have not gone into detailed exploration of the theory beyond this (I am not sure how valid the VARK system is anymore) but I notice that some things are just better visually represented rather than in words. I think I have a preference for diagrams in my own learning, and so making sure that I could use these in this technique was important to me. I know I touched on this in the last article, but adding images to my card deck is very useful for a number of topics. What I have found to be helpful is to be sure that I have the facilities to draw and sketch when I am answering my cards. A piece of paper works well, but I have also downloaded a very basic drawing app on my phone that lets me simply sketch a simple diagram or equation if I need to. This additional engagement of drawing out an answer has helped make some of these topics much more ingrained than they otherwise might have been. Indeed, I find that writing out the written answers in some cases is also really helpful (e.g. lists or categories), but doing it for every question has always seemed a bit too laborious to work for me.
- Keep the answers short. More questions with shorter/smaller answers seems to work better for retention, as well as motivation for doing the cards.
- Break down larger answers into multiple small parts where possible
- Try adding in the facility to draw and sketch diagrams or equations for some topics
Forming the Habit
- Create a habit of finishing your cards every day. I use a habit tracker app to help me with this
- Optimise your card writing to make them easier to do
- Heaton, T. Medical Education: Spaced Repetition. Rapid Sequence. 2019. http://www.rapidsequence.org.uk/blog/medical-education-spaced-repetition
- Oakley, B. et al. Learning how to learn. Coursera. https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn
- Keiffenheim, E. How to remember everything you want from non fiction books. Medium. 2020. https://medium.com/better-humans/how-to-remember-everything-you-want-from-non-fiction-books-df17096d517f
- Brown, P. Roediger III, H. McDaniel, M. Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. 2014. The Belknap Press. Cambridge:Massachusetts.
- Heaton, T. Atomic Habits. Rapid Sequence. 2020. http://www.rapidsequence.org.uk/blog/atomic-habits