SQL MCM Day 9: Taking Good Notes

I sit at the back of the classroom, so I get to see everybody’s laptops as they’re working.  Some folks surf the web, make travel plans, or do email.  Other folks follow along with the demos, running the scripts on their machines before the instructor gets to the next one.  I seem to have a little bit of an oddball strategy, so I figured maybe I should blog it in case it helps anybody else.

I start by keeping the PowerPoint slide deck open.  As the instructor explains each slide, I make notes in the “Notes” part of the slide.  If the slide deck already has some notes from the instructor, I make a line above their notes to show what’s theirs versus what’s mine, and I put mine at the top.  I find that instructors place very different emphasis on different parts of the slide – for example, some instructors will say, “This part here doesn’t even really matter, and I don’t know why I haven’t taken that off the slide.”  Presto, put that in the notes, and you can change the way you study.

Instructors also place huge amounts of emphasis on other points, so I make note of that too.  If a particular topic is very important, they’ll show it with their body language, pointing at the topic or waving their hands.  Those kinds of points seem to be more likely to show up on exams.

I also start a Word document, and I switch back and forth between that and the slide deck.  In the doc, I put notes about:

  • Blog topics (not necessarily blogging something straight from the deck, but more like things that occur to me while I’m watching them cover a topic)
  • Things I need to bring up with clients (like when a slide covers a solution that might address their problems)
  • Questions I want to ask the presenter later (clarifications, going down a rathole, or anything that is important to me personally but probably isn’t of interest to the rest of the class, and I don’t want to burn up the classroom time)
  • Things I find interesting, but aren’t likely to appear on the exam

The downside of my fragmented PowerPoint/Word approach is that it’s not as easy to combine all of my notes in one place.  I’ve seen people using OneNote, and looks slick, but I’m kind of averse to anything that puts more software between me & the original source docs.

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17 Comments. Leave new

  • Sounds like you have a good plan for note-taking. I’m a horrible note taker. I totally get by on memory which means I have to look up everything 2 weeks after the test.

  • I do the same thing with PowerPoint slides. Maybe it is a genetic preference. I struggle with that online class when studying for exams because there are no cues as to what the instructor will focus on. No review sheet, just the statement that chapters 5-10 will be covered. Grrr.

  • Your body language remark reminds me of a cert course instructor who would stomp on the floor to emphasize that what he was saying would be on the exam.

  • I use a Pulse pen from Livescribe (just the cheap 1GB model is great). Granted, it’s paper and not the original media, but it’s a great way to take notes

  • William Melton
    March 24, 2010 8:33 am

    You pay how much to take this course and are around the smartest minds in the business, and you are found surfing the web :0…wonder what score that person will make on the test?

  • I use OneNote for every note I take. Not only can you include documents, (word, Excel, PDF, MPP, PPT, etc) but you can edit and comment on them from within OneNote.

    Brent, spend a little more time in OneNote and you’ll realize what it can do. I see this solving your PPT note taking and the need for the Word document.

    Hope this helps.

  • Malathi Mahadevan
    March 24, 2010 9:34 am

    The description of what some class attendees do is not that different from what you see in a rather mundane sql class or pass conference sessions..human maybe but if i paid that much $ i’d rather not find myself surfing… Also it seems to me the key challenge is perhaps not just the exams, it is focus and absorbing material over extended period of time, something that is hard for most adults..how often do you guys get breaks? 🙂

    • We get 5-10 minute breaks every hour, and then 45-60 minute lunches. You’re right about the challenge of focusing & absorbing the material – and then you have to not only pass the written exams, but apply it in real-life in the 6-hour lab on the last Saturday. This is gonna be a tough one….

  • Hmmm, I wonder how long before someone draws a correlation between this post about seeing everyone’s laptops and the fact that you passed the first test despite declarations that you would not.

    Well, I know you didn’t cheat off of my test because you finished before me.

  • For me, the MAKING of notes is the most important thing for me. My brain tends to remember things it had my hands write down. Referring to them later is secondary.

    I do love OneNote.

  • Hey Brett,
    Please explain “but I’m kind of averse to anything that puts more software between me & the original source docs.” Specifically how OneNote is more s/w & Word is not.

    I’ve found Word does multipoint lists better & has slightly richer word processing features. But OneNote is significantly better at helping you arrange random thoughts. You can swap between multiple tabs as the conversation jumps back & forth. Move text around quickly. At the end of the course you can Cut/Paste into a “final” word doc if you want.
    But then you have to deal with 100’s of Word docs. And lose the concise indexing system One Note offers.

    • David – great question. OneNote is a proprietary system – think of it more as OneClient. For those of us who work on Macs, iPads, phones, and web browsers, we want cross-platform file capabilities. I can get that with Word – lots of software works with docs. I’m not tied into any one client or platform.

  • By way of an update:
    OneNote is part of the free Office Web Apps 2010 release which runs on Safari & Firefox. (OWA is part of the MS Live offering like Skydrive & Hotmail).
    It is also available as part of Office 365 Subscription. So it does have online support for the platforms you mentioned.
    It is not part of Office:Mac. (So no offline Mac capability)
    It can save in .Doc, .Docx, .PDF, .XPS. So it would interoperate as effectively with other apps that read/write the .DOC file format. But clearly not as well as Word.

    I mention this because I had OneNote installed for 4 years before I bothered to even open it. Since then I’ve found it such a personal productivity boost I wouldn’t be without it.
    Clearly you have a different set of priorities. (or have not really tried it out)
    Love your work, Dave

    • No offline Mac capability – that kills it for me right there. I travel to clients, and I don’t always have internet access when we’re working. That would be my different set of priorities. 😀


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