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Math Study Strategies:

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 This document is evolving from original drafts by Philip Sink
...with enthusiastic encouragement from Dick Furnas
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This is the working document. See the release document DoNotTakeNotesPayAttention which includes from this page.
 
Table of Contents
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Meet Jan

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Why Take Notes?

You’ve got a textbook! It’s been proofread — an editorial process neither your notes nor the details of material presented in class have been subject to (but see below about what can happen in class). Maybe NOT taking notes is a better choice!

 

Should I Take Notes in Calculus?

Maybe not. You can confidently study from the textbook – there is unlikely to be any secret information the professor presents that is not found in the textbook. Calculus is pretty standard. But, you ask, “How do I learn anything if I don’t take notes?!” The answer lies in considering what you are to learn.

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  Thanks for sticking with us so far. We’ve got concrete suggestions for you. Read on…
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What Should I do Instead?

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What Should I do Instead of taking notes?

 
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Calculus is a subject that builds on itself – each piece of the course builds on what came before. In the end, while there are zillions of different questions that can be asked on an exam, the total picture of calculus is ultimately simple, concise , and yes — beautiful!. Instead of taking notes, Pay Attention! Perch yourself on the edge of your seat with the attitude “I will pay attention and follow what is presented as closely as I can.”
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Calculus is a subject that builds on itself – each piece of the course builds on what came before. In the end, while there are zillions of different questions that can be asked on an exam, the total picture of calculus is ultimately simple, concise , and yes — beautiful!. Instead of taking notes, Pay Attention! Perch yourself on the edge of your seat with the attitude “I'm going to learn this now!" How? Pay attention and follow what is presented on as many levels as possible.
 
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Q: How do I do that? What does “Pay Attention!” even mean?
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Q: How do I do that? What does it mean to "Follow on as many different levels as possible"?
 
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A:
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A: Here are some examples of what it means to Pay Attention!
 
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  • “What key ideas is the professor seeming to emphasize?”
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  • You are learning in the present, during the lecture.
    • If something isn't clear, ask the question!
    • If something seems incorrect, ask the question!
 
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  • “What key ideas do I see myself?”
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  • "levels" to follow during a lecture:
    • What are the gory details of the algebra being performed as the problem is being solved?
    • How do those details fit into the arc of the solution?
    • How does this problem involve the topic of the day's lecture?
    • How is today's lecture important to the material
      • for the week?
      • since the last exam?
      • since the start of the semester?
    • How does any of this relate to
      • the homework? (you have looked at the homework, haven't you?)
      • things I already know?
      • things in other courses I'm taking?
 
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  • “How does this relate to the other material from today?”
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The whole class will benefit if you ask a question. You will help insure more clarity in the presentation, and catch the inevitable errors that can occur during any presentation.
 
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  • “How does this relate to the other material from this week?”
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For whatever remains difficult, we at the MSC are here to help you figure it out. Best of luck!
 
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  • “How does this relate to the other material from this unit?”
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When Should I Take Notes, and What Should They Look Like?

 
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  • And most importantly
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When is it useful to take notes? If there is no textbook, notes can be useful – the only way you have access to the material after lecture is through your notes. Furthermore, for some, notes may be a good start to help memorize information. Though, as the studies cited in the link below can attest, notes can also seriously hinder memorization and especially understanding.
 
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  • “What don’t I understand/what questions do I have?”

Too often, notes can serve as a crutch – you think to yourself “I’ll figure this out later when I study” rather than ask the question in class. The whole class will benefit if you address something that is unclear to you – chances are, someone else is unclear on that point as well. The textbook is essential as well – all the information is there. If you forget what something is later, when working on homework, you can look it up there. And, because you assessed the information with the above strategies, it will be far less inscrutable to read. For whatever remains difficult, we at the MSC are here to help you figure it out. Best of luck!

 
There was a young premed in Calc
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[I’m not a fan of this link and did not refer to it in my edits above. It is clear product promotion which feeds on FoMo (Fear of Missing Out) and further contributes to procrastination — “I’ve got it all verbatim on my recording device so I can learn it later”. There is no time like the present. Learn it now. The ability to replay things faster than real time is very cool and has its uses, but should not be encouraged here. Let’s write from our observations and experience, this is not a scholarly paper. I looked for other references I would be happier with, They were not so easy to find with some suggesting that the interference from note taking was more pronounced in people “on the spectrum” — not inconsistent with the “people are different” assertion. In any case it all seemed to me to be at the same level of credibility as reportage on nutrition and diet advice. Great clickbait smile ]
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