I'll reiterate my two goals in making study notes:
- To condense a hefty stack of lecture notes into a minimum number of pages...i.e. be concise and waste no words! Who wouldn't rather study 50 pages instead of 500?
- To include every potentially testable fact in my study notes, so that I can get rid of the Powerpoint slides/textbook and only study my own notes come exam time.
Presently I'm studying for the USMLE Step 1 (yes, I'm playing catch up on this one, having only realized recently that I may end up working in the States), so I'll use the example of making study notes from First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 to demonstrate the process.
Here is the first chapter of the book, which I spent a couple of hours going over and making notes on (note that all screenshots from First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 by Le and Bhushan are copyrighted by McGraw-Hill and not owned by me):
Here is the same chapter, condensed into three pages of study notes:
Distilling fifteen pages into three is none too shabby. Let me highlight a few ways I've shortened things down, since the above pages are too small for you to read anyways...
The section on trial phases looks like this in the book:
I abbreviated it by reducing the number of words, underlining key words, and visually demarcating phases I, II, and III (pre-approval) from phase IV (post-approval) with a dashed line. I use symbols (#), abbreviations (pt, dz), and arrows (drug, placebo) to shorten the text.
The section on positive and negative predictive value looks like this:
I shortened it into just two lines, using "+" and "-" symbols rather than words, and using yellow-highlighted up and down arrows rather than the words "high" and "low" to pictorially show direct and inverse relations. Furthermore, I added a memory aid ("pushes up") in pencil. Note that I write my equations vertically, which is visually more clear than the horizontally typed equations in the textbook.
The section on precision versus accuracy in the book looks like this:
I rewrote it as just a few key words. I thought the picture was helpful, so I drew a small version of it in the margin. I omitted any information that I already knew or thought would not be helpful to memorize.
Here is an entire page in the book that lists and explains the types of bias:
Here's how the book defines null and alternative hypotheses -- pretty brief, but I can do better...
I just use a couple of words, linked clearly by equal signs. I use the empty set sign for "no" and a checkmark for "yes". I thought the book's picture was useful, so copied it down too.
Here's what the book has to say about type I and type II error:
Again, there's too much information here. Realistically, I know I'm just going to be able to memorize a couple of things, so that's all I write down in my own notes, highlighting useful memory aids and adding a couple of small reminders in pencil:
The book is pretty good (by which I mean brief) at explaining primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention:
I make my notes even briefer -- the fewer words the better! I think my version is a bit more clear, with the examples vertically aligned and the "PST" memory aid highlighted.
Here is the book's full-page explanation of ethical principles, informed consent, and consent for minors:
Here is my much briefer summary. I didn't write down definitions for the ethical principles, as I know what these words mean (don't waste space in your notes for things you already know). Under "informed consent" I listed the key principles. Under "confidentiality" I listed the five exceptions, using only a few words each. It is much easier for me to memorize vertical lists of a few items than facts listed in paragraph form, as they were presented in the book. Under consent for minors I clearly summarized what the book said, adding the "(<18 yo)" clarification above the word "minor".
Finally, here is the book's definition of Apgar score. It is nice and brief, but I dislike how the text is clumped in a paragraph.
I rewrote it with better spacing, with the pertinent information clearly displayed (1 min & 5 min, /10). I used a happy face instead of the word "good" (anything to make studying happier, right?). The last sentence in the book relates directly to the "<4" category, so that's literally what I attached it to in my own notes.
If you've read this far, I hope this was somewhat helpful in giving you some ideas of how to shorten down your lecture slides and textbook readings -- remember, condense, condense, condense, but not to the point of omitting information, because when it comes to study time, you want your study notes to be the only thing you have to look over!
Feel free to comment if you have any questions or suggestions!
If you're interested, here are other posts I've written about how I study:
On getting organized to study:
- How To Make A Study Schedule
- Printable Minimalist 2015 Monthly Calendars
- How I Organize My Student Agenda
- The Student Organizer Binder
- Study Tips, Part 1: Making Study Notes (& a few pages of my medical school study notes)
- Study Tips, Part 2: Quizzing Yourself
- Study Tips, Part 3: Where To Study
- Study Tips, Part 4: Picture Mnemonics
- Study Tips, Part 5: When To Study
- Study Tips, Part 6: Abbreviating Powerpoints Or Textbooks Into Study Notes
- Study Tips, Part 7: Avoiding Distractions