Key versus standard notes

The main body of a person's recalling is of this key concept nature. It is not, as is often assumed, a word-for-word verbatim process. When people describe books they have read or places they have been to, they do not start to 're-read' from memory. They give key concept overviews outlining the main characters, settings, events and add descriptive detail. Similarly the single key word or phrase will bring back whole ranges of experience and sensation. Think for example of the range of images that enter your mind when you read the word 'child'.

How, then, does acceptance of these facts about key recall affect our attitude toward the structure of note taking?

Because we have become so used to speaking and writing words, we have mistakenly assumed that normal sentence structure is the best way to remember verbal images and ideas. Thus the majority of students and even graduates have taken notes in a normal literary fashion similar to the example of a university student whose notes were rated 'good' by his professor. See facing page.

Our new knowledge of key concepts and recall has shown that in this type of notes 90 per cent of the words are not necessary for recall purposes. This frighteningly high figure becomes even more frightening when a closer look is taken at what happens with standard sentence notes:

1 Time is wasted recording words which have no bearing on memory (estimated waste - 90%).

2 Time is wasted re-reading the same unnecessary words (estimated waste - 90%).

3 Time is wasted searching for the words which are key, for they are usually not distinguished by any marks and thus blend in with other non-recall words.

4 The connections between key words are interrupted by words that separate them. We know that memory works by association and any interference by non recall words will make the connections less strong.

5 The key words are separated in time by intervening words: after one key word or phrase has been read it will take at least

Fig 31 An example of traditionally 'good' university student's notes.

See text on opposite page.

a few seconds to get to the next. The longer the time between connections, the less chance there will be of proper connection being made.

6 The key words are separated in space by their distance from each other on the page. As with the point made about time, the greater the distance between the words, the less chance of there being a proper connection.

You are advised to practise key word and phrase selection from any previous notes made during periods of study. It will also be helpful at this point for you to summarise this chapter in key note form.

In addition, reconsider key and creative words in the light of the information in the chapter on Memory, especially the section dealing with mnemonic techniques. Similarly the memory chapter itself can be reconsidered in the light of this chapter, with a similar emphasis on the relationship and similarities between mnemonic systems and key and creative concepts.

The review graph is another important consideration. Review is made much easier when notes are in key form, because less time is expended, and because the recall itself will be superior and more complete. Any weak linkages will also be cemented more firmly in the early stages.

Finally, linkages between key words and concepts should always be emphasised and where possible simple lists and lines of key words should be avoided. In the following chapter advanced methods of key word linking and patterning will be explained in full.

Personal Notes

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