Note Taking

note taking

Could I write about a more boring topic?  Probably not. The thought of taking extensive notes and writing essays on what one has learned tends to bring up old distresses from school years.  The boring professor, the one who expects too much, and then the class you had no idea what you were getting into when you signed up. (Ancient Egyptian Algebra, anyone?)  These memories and concerns are valid, and most of us (including myself) would like to remove ourselves as far as possible from the tedium and stress of academia.

Here’s where I encounter a difficult conundrum.  I’ve had a lot of bad experiences at school. I never did my homework, always had some looming deadline or exam, and I often couldn’t stand sitting still and listening to a lecture.  But, I absolutely love to learn. If I’m not mistaken, I’m far from alone in that, too. Everyone, in my experience, wants to learn about something. Everyone has something that interests them, gets a fire sparked in their heart, and that fire stokes a burning desire (nay, a need) to explore that topic.  And they’re willing to read every book, watch every video, take every class to learn more. For me, that has been my faith and, for lack of a better term, my “witchy practice.”

My first religious book was Ancient Greek Religion by Jon D. Mikalson, which I can’t recommend more.  It truly is fascinating and, bonus, is very well written so you never get bored.  But I digress. When I started reading that book, I quickly realized that there was no way I was going to remember everything.  Psychology to the rescue! The obvious statement is that studies have shown taking notes helps you to remember. The theory is that, in order to take notes, your brain has to decipher what’s important, and what isn’t.  Unless you actually sit down for a year and memorize a book, you’re never going to remember every small thing. Taking notes helps you to remember by letting you know what to forget. But how should you take notes? A study conducted in 2016 by two professors (one from Princeton, and another from the University of California in LA) showed that students who took notes by hand retained more than those who took notes on a laptop.  This is, again, because when you write by hand, you’re less tempted to write word-for-word. It’s just exhausting. But, and this is the important part, writing down your notes by hand seems to have an effect similar to muscle-memory. There’s something about being active, as opposed to passive, that increases retention. In the same vein, try to read a physical book if you can. Turning the pages gives you a better sense of where you are in the book, and you have more of a visual memory of what was being said.  Final note: you can also draw as a way of bolstering your notes. The image will stick in your head (especially if it’s something absurd) and will be even faster of a reference than the written notes.

Okay, enough of my scienc-y rant.  I took very few notes on that book, but I still remember the key components.  And, as I took it out from the library, my notes are now the only way I can look back and remember what was said.  But even if I still had the book, would I re-read the entire thing just to find one line I wanted to remember? Unlikely.  So take notes on anything and everything, put it in a Book of Shadows. If you don’t have the time or desire to read a book and take notes on it, the benefit of being a witch is that there is a Book of Shadows for everyone out there, where people have already condensed the information for you.  Highlight what you need from those, and you’re well on your way.

It’s important to be educated about what you love, so it makes everything a lot easier if you learn as effectively as possible.  Best of luck in your journey, and blessed be.

Jasmine Scarlatos