Be More Than an Active Listener

The professor is lecturing, and the students around you appear to be paying attention. Talk talk talk, “Important test information,” more talking.

Concentration lost, consciousness hazy; you doze off. The notes you were taking end up unfinished, and the notes you did take end up as ramblings of a lecture long forgotten. How can you engage yourself in class and take great notes that will keep you on top of the material?

Consider digital flash cards. However, do not create them after class, create them during class.

Numerous applications for laptops and mobile devices allow students to quickly and easily make flash cards as study tools, but creating them actively during class can help strengthen your participation and hone your focus for information that is critical to your success. 

This strategy will work best for courses requiring a lot of memorization. Before the TA or professor begins teaching, load your flash card app of choice and create a dedicated deck for the class. Once they begin to teach, instead of trying to write down everything, make flash cards for everything you anticipate being tested on: key terms, important names and dates, case studies, formulas and the like. Of course this is easier said than done, but being selective about your process helps develop your note taking and test taking intuition, which you can continuously improve by being a more active notetaker with this flash cards.

When you prepare to study for tests, your flashcards are ready to use and easy to review on the go. Information is structured in a question-and-answer format, and many apps allow you to retest specific cards that you feel need more attention. For example, Flashcards+ syncs among all your mobile devices so you can review flashcards anywhere. Furthermore, you can export and share decks with others to help out your fellow student in need.

In Harvard Professor Michael C. Friedman’s “Notes on Note-Taking,” for Harvard’s Initiative for Learning and Teaching, he discusses reviewing notes in a testable way that helps you retrieve information to aid in retention. Reviewing your notes and testing yourself with your notes is crucial for recalling information when you need it (for example, during a test). (1) Professor Friedman also notes that you should not assume you know class material better than you actually do. It is common to believe that material seems easy in class and find it more difficult when needing to study for a test. Based on the information recall necessary for successful test taking, digital flash cards can afford students the obvious benefits of information recall testing while providing easier means of access and distribution. 

Give it a try, pay attention in class, and stay studious.


1. Friedman, Michael C. Notes on Note-Taking: Review of Research and Insights for Students and Instructors. Harvard: Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching, 2014. Web. 20 July 2016.

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