Saturday, June 23

Taking notes - help!

Taking notes is a challenge for many TOEFL takers. Why? Because there is so much information, especially in the listening section, and in the lecture half of the integrated essay, and for speaking tasks 5 and 6.

"Is that fair?" my TOEFL students ask.

Yes. Remember: It's all part of the TOEFL game. TOEFL fills your plate with spaghetti and rice and beans and salad and gyros and empanadas and kebobs and couscous and Big Macs and feijoada and sushi and falafels and baba ghanouj (I love it!) and aloo gobi and tempeh and borscht, then says, "Eat!" What happens? You start eating and soon realize, "This is too much, too fast. Stop!"

Unfortunately, you cannot stop. You must continue to listen and take notes even as the food keeps piling up on your plate. In other words, TOEFL is forcing you take notes as quickly as possible. Why? Because TOEFL is testing your automaticity specific to note taking. What is automaticity? Automaticity means your ability to think automatically without stopping to translate or think. That's right. No thinking. For example, I say, "Yo, Pete. What did you have for breakfast?"

Pete: "Red Bull and Cheerios."

Great. Very fast. Very natural. Very automatic.

Then I say, "Hey, Joe. S'up? What did you have for dinner last night?"

Joe: "Ah...Ah...Stuff. You know...Ah...What was the question?"

As you can see, Joe had to think. And think. And think. Did he demonstrate automaticity? Nope.

It's the same with note taking. The faster you take notes (greater automaticity), the more information you will have, the more you will answer questions correctly. The result? Good notes = higher scores.

So is there a strategy for note taking? Yes. The key to taking good notes is anticipating where important information is located in the lecture, discussion, etc. How can you anticipate important information in a lecture, etc.? By understanding basic argument development. As you know, the TOEFL iBT is all arguments. By understanding argument structure, you will be able to anticipate and identify information (both general and specific) that will be tested. If you do not understand argument structure, you will end up trying to write everything down, word-for-word. This will result in notes you can't read, a tired hand, and the need to scream. I know. I see this all the time.

Want to know more note-taking strategies? It's all in the book.

The Pro