My Take

Mental Illness and Studying Tricks

Hi! I’m back with some additional advice for students about studying in a way that is least overwhelming and tiring. I’m really trying to get back into the swing of school and complete consecutive semesters so I can move forward; I completed 3 classes last semester and now the winter session is about to begin. I’m taking 3 classes again which doesn’t seem like a lot, especially when I think of all the students taking full course loads but I recognize that I need to move at my own pace. I’m not going to force another 7 or 8 classes on myself and end up where I was 2 and 3 years ago! I recommend the same to you; it may feel like slow progress but slow and steady wins the race. It’s more important and effective to take fewer classes and be able to concentrate fully on them than to spread ourselves too thin and harm our mental well-being. When our mental health is already compromised, it becomes even more imperative to take small and manageable bites!

Optimal Note Taking

It may be 2021 but I stand by my hand-written notes over digital ones any day! I also believe that notes are a cornerstone to academic success and that finding the perfect note taking strategy for oneself is a huge leg-up. This is what works for me, and it has helped others because I take notes for the Access Centre which gives privileges to students with challenges. I use the Centre myself but I take notes for certain classes so that other students can use them if they can’t take notes themselves.

Writing notes by hand is one of the ways that helps us learn and remember material. It’s quicker to read over notes on your laptop or print them out but then we lose the connection that comes from reading, remembering sentences to write down, our hand moving across the paper and silently re-reading what we take down. It’s undeniable that typing notes is faster and it’s possible to get down everything the teacher says while taking notes by hand is longer and often in point form / written out in our own words instead of verbatim, but this is actually the pro, not the con. Typing or writing something word for word is easy but summarizing on paper involves interpreting the new information. This is why when we take physical notes the studying has already begun. In order to summarize well we need to understand the concept in our own words which is a huge step that will help when studying the notes later. Mindlessly transcribing information doesn’t begin the process of learning and comprehending – which is a huge disadvantage!

My System

My note taking has evolved tremendously and I’ve seen the impact it has had on my grades. When I was younger I started with a regular pencil and things were a mess. My handwriting was bad and everything was clumped together in an overwhelming mass of info. In High School I upgraded to mechanical pencils which helped me improve my writing and things became more organized. By CEGEP my notes were decent but still in large paragraphs and not well delineated. I had to change methods because my mental health issues made it very easy to see blocks of information and become discouraged and confused. In other words I could get away with interpreting my old style of note taking while I was ok, but once I was hit with this nightmare it no longer worked for me. My new trick, which has proved to be very effective, is to take notes like I’m super dumb and practically need to be drawn a picture. Guess what? It works! Maybe I am dumb…just kidding, we shouldn’t be saying these things to ourselves!

Rainbow Notes

Maybe it seems silly and childish, but I use about 5 different colours when taking notes and that’s fine by me even if I feel like a little kid sometimes. My notes are now highly structured and colour coded and if it weren’t for that I don’t think I’d be doing so well academically. Below are two photos of notes in the style that I write them. The first is for non-mathematical subjects and the second is for calculations.

Note taking example
Mathematical note taking example

Maybe you took one look at those pics and said no way am I spending that much time on notes…and I get it. This way does take longer but if you keep the caps off your pens and write fast it’s actually not so bad, haha. In all seriousness, this saves my bacon and I think it can help you too. You see I suffer from the annoying problem of NOT REMEMBERING ANYTHING when I look at my notes from another day! This solves that problem and keeps me from getting overwhelmed because my brain can take it all in one step at a time. Instead of a mass of intimidating information I get the prelude in green, the key points in purple, the daunting formulas are colour coded and explained and the red jumps out and tells me not to forget something I know I’ll trip up on. It’s a ‘fait accompli’ in my book!

That’s all for now…I’ll write a new post on this subject if more comes to mind. Wishing you a happy, healthy and productive semester!

If you found this helpful you may like to read my article Mental Illness and School to learn more general tips.

What's YOUR take?