Spotlight: Re-write (Tips for Transforming your Mangled, Messy Notes into an Awesome Study Tool)

In all my years of teaching, I have found that the students who claim to have “studied really hard” and yet fail to reach their goals have one thing in common: they did not take notes. They may have re-read the text a thousand times, dried up a hundred highlighters, and listened to a year’s worth of podcasts—but they did not take notes.

Here at the Bubbly Professor, we believe strongly in the power of notes. It starts with a proper reading of the textbook (ideally before you attend a class or webinar on the subject matter)—and taking written notes.

In this article, we’d like to offer up a few ideas on another best practice: the re-write. Used properly, a re-write (or three) can transform your notes—even if they started out as a mangled mess of scribbles—into a streamlined study tool.

For starters, here are a few basic pointers:

  • Read over your notes two or three times before you attempt your first re-write. This will certainly give you a head start with memorization, but the real goal here is to ensure that you understand the context and see the “big picture” surrounding the information.
  • Use a fresh, designated notebook or file for your re-writes. You should expect this notebook or file to be highly useful during your revision.
  • Rewriting is not the same thing as re-copying. Your notes should be transformed in the re-writing process, and this will take some effort. This is especially important if you have made the mistake of taking liner notes—meaning you’ve copied something from the book or something that your instructor said basically word-for-word.

Idea #1: Create a Shrinking Outline: The first step in creating a shrinking outline is to re-write your notes into outline form—your first outline. Start by identifying the key concept in a section of your notes and—using the key concept as your section header—add the supporting details. Make sure that you paraphrase the pertinent information in clear, simple terms and in your own words.

Study this outline for a few days (or weeks, or whatever your timeline allows), and then create your second outline. Shrink this outline so that it includes just the key concepts and eliminates the supporting details. When studying from this outline, use active recall to fill in the supporting details. Refer back to the first outline to judge your progress.

Your third (and perhaps final) shrinking outline should contain just a list of prompts or key words. This final outline might remind you of the process of creating a deck of flash cards (and once completed, it may be used in the same way). Use this outline for self-testing, once again referring back to your first outline to make sure you’re capturing all the information that you want to learn.

Idea #2: Create Cloze Exercises: Don’t be frightened off by the obscure terminology: a cloze exercise is just a fill-in-the-blank exercise. (The terminology is believed to have been derived from the law of closure, as used in Gestalt Theory.)

Despite the weird-sounding name, cloze exercises can easily be created via a re-write—and they are an excellent study tool.

To create cloze exercises, follow the steps outlined above to create your first set of outlined notes (alternatively, you could start with your messy, mangled notes if they are clear enough). Re-write your notes or your outline leaving out the key words or phrases that you’d like to commit to memory. Put the answers on a separate page. If you are typing your notes, create a new file and blank out the key words; your original file can serve as the answer key.

Here are a few examples:

  • The main grape of the Chianti DOCG is _______________________; which must comprise a minimum ________________ of the finished wine.
  • The only EU country to have an AOC-designated rum is _______________; the name of this product is __________________.

One of the reasons that fill-in-blank notes are so effective is that they allow you to use the awesome power of the active recall study technique.

TL/DR: Please take notes. Re-write them effectively. Use them for revision. They can—and should—be one of your best study tools!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

2 Responses to Spotlight: Re-write (Tips for Transforming your Mangled, Messy Notes into an Awesome Study Tool)

  1. Pingback: How NOT to Take Notes | The Bubbly Professor

  2. Pingback: Go Around Again! | The Bubbly Professor

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