How college science students engage in note-taking strategies

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    How College Science Students Engage in Note-Taking Strategies

    Janice M. Bonner,1 William G. Holliday2

    1College of Notre Dame of Maryland, 4701 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21210

    2University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742

    Received 31 December 2004; Accepted 31 May 2005

    Abstract: A composite theory of college science student note-taking strategies was derived from a

    periodic series of ve interviews with 23 students and with other variables, including original and nal

    versions of notes analyzed during a semester-long genetics course. This evolving composite theory was

    later compared with Van Meter, Yokoi, and Pressleys (Journal of Educational Psychology, 86, 323338,

    1994) corresponding composite college students theory of note-taking. Students notes in this long-term

    study were also compared with a standard of adequate note-taking established by experts. Analyses

    detected many similarities between the two composite theories. Analyses also provided evidence of

    inadequate note-taking strategies, inconsistencies between what students claimed and evidently did with

    their notes, and weak self-regulating learning strategies. Recommendations included prompting students

    during class on how to take notes. 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 43: 786818, 2006

    In this study, the researchers developed a composite set of beliefs held by a group of college

    science students concerning their note-taking strategies and compared it with the seminal work of

    VanMeter, Yokoi, and Pressley (1994). VanMeters team, subsequent to analyzing a series of ve

    interviews with 252 college students, developed a college students theory of note-taking,

    derived from students beliefs about note-taking. Researchers in the present study determined how

    extensively the participants set of note-taking beliefs was implemented in a semester-long

    genetics course. Data were derived frommany sources, including students notes (both after each

    lecture class and again at the end of the semester), their markings in course textbooks, and

    interviews with the professor teaching the target genetics course. A comparison was made

    between what students said about how they took notes and evidence about what they actually did

    with their notes in preparing for course examinations. Notes written by the 23 participants were

    assessed in terms of what two experienced biology teachers believed to be reasonable notes

    covering seven genetics concepts presented in the course, referred to as adequate representations.

    The data generated in this study were assessed in terms of selected components of the

    Correspondence to: J.M. Bonner; E-mail:

    DOI 10.1002/tea.20115

    Published online 24 July 2006 in Wiley InterScience (

    2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

  • self-regulated learning theory (Schunk, 2005; Zimmerman, 1989, 1998). Thus, the rationale for

    this study is to build on the previous work of VanMeter et al. (1994) and other researchers, to seek

    clarication about how students take notes and what collected evidence suggests about the way

    students use their notes, and to compare a sampling of students notes with an adequate

    representation of notes.


    Note-taking, a nearly ubiquitous classroom practice, is a popular learning strategy among

    science students and is often encouraged by teachers. The goal perhaps is to help students record,

    clarify, organize, and comprehend information highlighted during lectures rather than merely

    depend on their memories and, thus, enhance preparation for and performance on course tests. A

    recent survey of 5728 science and mathematics teachers in the USA found that 86% of students in

    high school biology classes listen to lectures and take notes at least once aweek (Weiss, 2002). The

    strategy is apparently practiced, although to a lesser degree, in middle and elementary schools

    54% and 15%, respectively (Weiss, 2001, Table 5.6). If a similar survey were administered to

    college science instructors, it would perhaps produce rates higher than the 86% reported by high

    school science teachers (see Palmatier & Bennett, 1974).

    Early note-taking literature grew out of the pedagogical question of whether a student would

    be better served by taking notes or merely listening attentively in class. Some early studies

    suggested that note-taking had positive benets for the student. Crawford (1925a, 1925b)

    administered postlecture quizzes to subjects, some of whom had taken notes during a short lecture

    and others who had not. He concluded that students who took notes performed better on follow-up

    quizzes than students who did not take notes, especially if their notes were clear and specic.

    Eisner and Rohde (1959), on the other hand, concluded that students did not necessarily benet

    from taking notes. In their study, subjects listened to a short lecture. Half of them took notes during

    the lecture and the other half immediately following it. Results of quizzes on the lecture material

    showed no signicant difference between the two settings for the taking of notes.

    Landmark studies by DiVesta and Gray (1972, 1973) expanded the pattern of back-and-forth

    conclusions about the efcacy of note-taking to consider the actual role played by the strategy,

    specically whether notes are more valuable as a source of information for later reference or as a

    method bywhich students can translate information into their own understanding. As DiVesta and

    Grays subjects listened to a set of short passages, some were permitted to take notes and others

    were not. Subjects who had taken notes performed signicantly better on both a recall test and a

    multiple-choice test. DiVesta and Gray suggested that note-taking, rather than interfering with

    learning as had been hypothesized by some earlier researchers, actually enhanced the ability of the

    student to recognize and organize important information.

    Subsequent investigators began to approach note-taking in the framework established by

    DiVesta andGraythat is, either as a process of recording information in class or as a product that

    could be reviewed afterward. The work of Carter and Van Matre (1975) suggested the former. In

    their study, college students listened to a short lecture, some taking notes and others not doing so.

    Subjects were then provided a short period in which to either reread their notes or to mentally

    review the lecture. Theywere then administered a test, either immediately after the review or after

    a delay. On the delayed test, the only subjects who performed better were those who had taken

    notes and then reviewed them. Carter and Van Matre concluded that taking notes was not as

    benecial to the student as having notes. Alternatively, Peper and Mayer (1978) believed that

    actually taking notes was of more benet than merely having them. In their study, subjects were

    divided into note-takers and nonnote-takers and then shown a short video. Afterwards, theywere


  • given a set of two types of problems: some required them to generate a solution to a problem

    related to the video and others required them to interpret information included in the video. In

    measures of retention and recall, note-takers performed no differently than nonnote-takers.

    Peper and Mayer did nd that note-takers, especially those of lower ability, recalled more

    conceptual idea units, and nonnote-takers recalled more technical idea units. They concluded

    that note-taking may help students to connect the lecture content with their prior knowledge.

    Kiewra (1985) summarized investigations that had been conducted along the note-taking as

    process/notes as product front. Of the 29 studies that had explored the process function of note-

    taking, two thirds suggested that note-taking was a positive strategy compared with listening. In

    addition, of the 18 studies that had examined the product role, two thirds reported that having notes

    and reviewing them is better than either not having notes or not reviewing them.

    Although the process/product debate continued, some researchers began to ask different

    questionsfor example, about the content and format of notes taken by students. Einstein,Morris,

    and Smith (1985) sought to determine what students put into their notes. In their study, subjects

    either took notes during a short videotaped lecture or merely listened to it; afterwards, they were

    asked to record everything that they remembered. Note-takers recalled signicantly more high-

    importance concepts from the video than nonnote-takers. Moreover, their notes included

    signicantly more high-importance ideas than either medium- or low-importance ideas. In

    addition, subjects later recalled a greater percentage of those ideas that they recorded in their

    notes. Einstein et al. concluded that note-taking apparently encourages students to process

    information in a qualitatively better way. Kiewra et al. (1991), in addition to directing subjects to

    either take notes or not take notes during a short video, instructed subjects to take notes in a

    particular style: linear (completing an outline of the lecture); matrix; or conventional. Subjects

    were administered a recall test and a synthesis test either immediately after the lecture or after a

    short review period. Subjects who took notes and reviewed them performed best on both types of

    test. There was no signicant difference among the types of notes.

    Some studies of note-taking set out to capture what undergraduate students actually think

    about the strategy, primarily through surveys or questionnaires. Palmatier and Bennett (1974)

    distributed a survey to 223 undergraduates. Ninety-nine percent of the subjects responded that

    they took notes during lecture (even a few who stated that they did not think note-taking was

    helpful) and 71% said they did so when they read. There appeared to be no relationship between

    students course grades and their note-taking practice. Carrier,Williams, andDalgaard (1988) also

    surveyed college students by administering the Note-Taking Perceptions Survey, which asks

    questions about perceptions of the worth of note-taking, levels of note-taking activity, and

    condence in note-taking skills. The researchers concluded that women respondents valued notes

    more highly, utilized notes more, and were more condent of their ability to take good notes than

    men. Moreover, their study suggested that nal course grade was predicted by a students note-

    taking condence.

    Most recently, note-taking research has been integrated with listening and reading

    comprehension strategies. In this regard, leading reading researchers (Guthrie & Anderson,

    1999; Ogle & Blachowicz, 2002; Pressley & McCormick, 1995; Pressley, 2002; Vacca & Vacca,

    2002) recommended that teachers train students how to take notes and to engage in other strategies

    while reading or listening about information. Although some students are taught specic note-

    takingmethods (Stahl, King,&Henk, 1991)for example, the CornellMethod, theUniedNote-

    taking System (Palmatier, 1971), or the Verbatim Split Page Methodmost students are not

    instructed in any note-taking methods at all (Van Meter et al., 1994).

    All of the described note-taking studies typically were conducted as isolated events

    snapshots of the note-taking process. Moreover, they were not situated in naturalistic settings, but


  • in contrived contexts. Finally, they involved notes, textual material, and test questions that had

    little or no bearing on students personal academic success and for which they had little academic

    accountability. Therefore, the research design of these studies may have prevented investigators

    from capturing what really occurs both in the lecture hall and at the study carrel. Such earlier

    published studies, of course, contributed to our understanding of note-taking and provided

    researchers with a foundation to move beyond contrived experiments. Furthermore, although

    surveys such as those described may provide helpful information about how students view note-

    taking, the survey format also has denite limitations because it frequently superimposes choices

    on students, limiting their freedom of response.

    VanMeter et al. (1994), believing that amore complex student-centered theory of note-taking

    was a prerequisite to any understanding of the process, conducted a series of ethnographic

    interviews of 252 undergraduates from which they developed the seminal college students

    theory of note-taking (CSTN). Because of its methodological thoroughness and analytical

    insightfulness, the CSTN stands as perhaps the most explicit development of undergraduate

    beliefs about a key academic strategy. It expands both educators and investigators understanding

    of note-taking and suggests future research directions.

    The CSTN (VanMeter et al., 1994) can be matched with extant note-taking research on three

    tracks. First, in numerous aspects, it was consistent with the extant note-taking literature. Van

    Meters participants reported that they almost always took notes during class lectures, and

    discussed contextual factors that affected their ability to take good notes, particularly the lecture

    style of the instructor (fast or slow, organized or disorganized). Van Meters participants had

    denite opinions about the details they incorporated into lecture notes and about how these details

    were best organized. They also discussed how they adapted note-taking strategies based on an

    assessment of test performance. Van Meters participants described the key role played by prior

    knowledge related to the course, their increased prociency in taking notes as they progressed

    through college, and their commitment to taking and keeping good notes. Their participants also

    described methods they used to process notes after class and the conditions under which they used

    notes to study and do homework. Second, the CSTN included considerations that previously had

    not been a part of researchers understanding of note-taking. Van Meters participants report-

    ed that, while their primary goal in taking notes was success in the course, they also considered

    subgoals, such as staying attentive in class and having a tool that could be used later for homework

    assignments. The students also reported that their note-taking style evolvedmost often in hard-to-

    take-notes courses that placed the greatest demands on note-taking skills. Apparently, neither of

    these two aspects of note-taking had been revealed by prior research. Third, in at least one area,

    whether notes are paraphrased or taken verbatim, the CSTN contradicted existing note-taking

    literature, which had suggested that paraphrased notes implied a higher degree of information

    processing than notes taken verbatim. Van Meters participants explained that they consciously

    selected either verbatim or paraphrased notes, depending on cognitive demands of the course,

    sometimes choosing word-for-word notes if they were not sure of the message of the instructor.

    Self-Regulated Learning

    Note-taking is one of a group of strategies that can be used to predict with a high degree of

    accuracy a students membership in either a higher achievement or lower achievement academic

    track (Zimmerman&Martinez-Pons, 1988). The self-regulation of these strategies is described as

    taking place over three phases that occur cyclically (Paris & Paris, 2001; Zimmerman, 1998):

    forethought; then the actual academic performance; and then self-reection. Forethought is the

    time before performance during which the student draws connections between task analysis and


  • self-motivation. It is during forethought that the actions of goal setting and strategic planning are

    integrated with the beliefs of self-efcacy, outcome expectations, interest in the task, and goal

    orientation. During the second phase, performance, there is an opportunity for more interaction as

    the student focuses on strategies that facilitate both concentrating on the task and monitoring

    various aspects of the performance. The third phase is self-reection. Here, the student evaluates

    the performance and assigns causal signicance to the results; the student also responds with

    satisfaction or dissatisfaction to the performance and decides whether to change the performance

    in the future. Based on current literature, therefore, a self-regulated note-taker would approach an

    academic situationfor example, a new coursealready armed with strategies and goals

    developed during the forethought phase. This note-taker would constantly adjust the note-taking

    process as the semester progressed, and would assess the success of themodications at the end of

    the course.

    College students are frequently described (e.g., Nelson, Dunlosky, Graf, & Narens, 1994) as

    competent self-regulated learners. It is possible, however, that the self-regulatory skills of this

    group have been overestimated because of the nature and context of the evaluative tasks (Pressley

    & Ghatala, 1988, 1990). In fact, college students performance on tests may be more strongly

    connected to note-taking and prior knowledge than to self-regulatory skills (Peverly, Brobst,

    Graham,&Shaw, 2003). To assist college students in their development as self-regulated learners,

    Zimmerman and Paulsen (1995) suggested that students be taught self-monitoring strategies,

    particularly when they are trying to understand difcult reading material or to develop new skills

    outside their collegemajor, and that faculty incorporate such instruction in their classes. Hofer,Yu,

    and Pintrich (1994) suggested that undergraduates are well-served by a program that provides

    them with a variety of clearly targeted strategiescognitive, metacognitive, and motivational

    but does not overload them with options. On the other hand, Paris and Paris (2001) suggested that

    students would benet from an on-going discussion of academic challenges and how to address

    them even more than from an overt presentation that matches particular strategies to particular


    VanMeter et al. (1994) established that undergraduate students have a denite theory of note-

    takingthey can talk the talk. Since then, little research in science education has been done to

    study note-taking or to link it with self-regulation. In particular, a recent survey of major

    research journals in science education (specically, Journal of Research in Science Teaching,

    Science Education, and International Journal of Science Education) failed to uncover basic

    work investigating note-taking by students enrolled in science courses at any school or college


    Questions addressed by the present study include the following. Was the note-taking

    theory of students in this study comparable to Van Meter et al.s (1994) college students

    theory of note-taking (CSTN)? How did college students apply their theory (i.e., beliefs or

    notions) about note-taking as they experienced the challenges of a demanding genetics

    coursein short, did they walk the walk? These questions were addressed by interviewing

    students and by examining their learning materials and other factors linked to the semester-

    long science course.

    The current study differs from traditional note-taking research in three ways. It was

    longitudinal in nature, enabling the researchers to follow individual students throughout an entire

    academic semester. It was situated in an actual academic course, thereby having an added

    naturalistic dimensiona situation approaching an authentic classroom condition and its implied

    responsibilities and tensions. Finally, this study explored students theory of note-taking aswell as

    their application of that theory in their course notes and, to a lesser degree, in their course



  • Method

    To uncover participants theory of note-taking, students were interviewed ve times over the

    semester, producingnearly100 hours of total interview time and600pages of transcripts. To observe

    how participants applied their theory of note-taking, their notebooks were analyzed after each class

    period and again at the end of the semester, producing almost 2500 pages of students notebooks. In

    addition, participants textbooks and course tests were analyzed, producing another 400 pages of

    data. Data were gathered and analyzed using the qualitative technique of analytic induction to build

    patterns of similarities and differences among participants (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992; LeCompte,

    Millroy, & Preissle, 1992). Researchers inspected evidence-based documents and came to

    consensus.Disputes between researcherswere negotiatedby appeal to evidence in the data gathered.


    Students enrolled in a 300-level genetics course at a private, liberal arts college for women

    were invited to participate in a semester-long study of note-taking strategies. The genetics course

    was a required course in the biologymajor, usually taken by students in their third year following a

    100-level introductory course, three 200-level organismal courses (selected from among botany,

    invertebrate zoology, microbiology, and vertebrate anatomy), and four semesters of general and

    organic chemistry. Interviews with six instructors residing in the biology and chemistry

    departments suggested that instructors of these courses generally presumed that students took

    notes in class and used notes to study and complete homework. None of the instructors reportedly

    included formal training in note-taking in their classes.

    The genetics coursewas chosen for two reasons. Therst reasonwasmore discipline-based

    genetics lies at the heart of contemporary biology. Students must understand and apply principles

    of genetics as they relate to the cell, to the molecular basis of heredity, and to evolution (National

    Research Council, 1996). The second reason was more curriculum-basedthe learning of

    genetics is often considered difcult for students at many levels of schooling because of the

    conceptual integration that is required (Baker & Lawson, 2001; Lewis &Wood-Robinson, 2000;

    Marbach-Ad & Sokolove, 2000). Within the biology curriculum of the institution at which this

    studywas conducted, genetics is the rst upper-level course taken bymost biologymajors, serving

    often as a gateway to more demanding theoretical and analytical 300- and 400-level biology

    courses. In addition, more than 12 years of academic advising at the institution by the rst author

    suggested that the genetics coursewould provide a situation that challenged participants ability to

    take good notes. Participants corroborated these opinions in later interviews.

    Twenty-three of 32 students enrolled in the genetics course (72%) participated in this study.

    The average age of participants was 20.7 years (SD 0.77). Six identied themselves as AfricanAmerican. One student identied English as her second language. Participants mean aptitude

    scores were 490 (SD 64) on the verbal section of the SAT (VSAT), and 458 (SD 71) on themathematics section of the SAT (MSAT).At the beginning of the semester, participants had earned

    an overall college GPA of 3.19 (SD 0.34) and a combined GPA of 3.06 (SD 0.41) in scienceand math courses required for biology majors.

    The course instructor, Dr. Frank Bradshaw (all names are pseudonyms), holds a doctoral

    degree inmolecular genetics. Hewas a tenure-track facultymember of the biology department and

    had taught genetics at the institution for 5 years.

    Lecture Setting

    The genetics class met for a 50-minute lecture three times a week. The tiered classroom in

    which the class was held could accommodate 60 students in traditional college arm-chairs.


  • Students apparently had reasonable room to take notes comfortably.Many students were observed

    using two desks, one for the notebook and another for the textbook. The instructor usually stood in

    front of the classroom and used an overhead projector throughout his lecture. His lecture style

    might be characterized as conversational and moderately paced, and included time for student

    questions, according to comments made by interviewed participants. The genetics course also

    included a weekly 3-hour laboratory session that was not explicitly included in the study.

    Participant Interviews

    Five rounds of semistructured interviews of the 23 participants were spaced throughout the

    semester (Figure 1). The average participant compliance was 81%. The rst interview, conducted

    with each of the 23 participants during the rst week of the semester, was designed to establish the

    baseline note-taking beliefs of participants. Participantswere presented an adaptation of questions

    used by Van Meter et al. (1994). Questions were modied to maximize their theoretical

    effectiveness in eliciting information from participants. The following questions represent the

    nature of the actual questions (see Appendix):

    What do you consider good notes? Bad notes? What are the characteristics of your notes? Do your course notes change over the semester?

    The second interview was conducted during the fth week of the course, immediately before

    Exam 1. The third interview was conducted during the eighth week of the semester, at about its

    midpoint. The fourth interview was conducted during weeks 11 and 12, straddling Exam 2. Each

    of these rounds of interviews (second, third, and fourth) used a series of questions, slightly

    different for each round, that dealt with each participants perception of her academic progress, her

    goals, and her note-taking strategies. For example, participants were asked:

    Have you done anything in the genetics course to change the way you take notes? How did you know what to do? What has been the most difcult part of the course for you so far? Have you done anything differently to take notes in that part of the course? How do you use your textbook in a course?

    Figure 1. Diagrammatic representation of the alignment of the components of the genetics course with the

    present study.


  • After participants completed the nal examination, the fth and nal interview was

    conducted. Participants were asked such questions as:

    How did you use your notes to prepare for the nal exam? What did you learn about yourself as a student in taking this genetics course?

    Two interviews were conducted with Dr. Bradshaw, at the beginning and again at the end of

    the semester.

    All interviews were audiotaped and transcribed. Transcripts were broken into single-topic

    informational units, and those that referred to note-taking were extracted. These units were then

    divided into categories, referenced across the 23 participants, and collapsed into a composite

    matrix that summarized what participants said they did with their notes and their textbook in the

    genetics course.

    Participant interviews were situated within the conceptual framework of the CSTN (Van

    Meter et al., 1994). The theorywas outlined andmatchedwith corresponding beliefs derived from

    participant interviews. A participants name was recorded under an aspect of note-takingfor

    example, highlighting, use of color, or use of bulletsonly if she specically mentioned that

    aspect during an interview. Therefore, if a participant stated that she rewrote her notes after each

    class, her name was recorded in this category; however, if a participant did not state that she used

    color in her notes, her name was not recorded, even if her notes included the use of color.

    Instructor Materials

    Dr. Bradshaw provided the researchers with the followingmaterials from the genetics course:

    his lecture material for the course (180 hand-written overhead transparencies from which he

    lectured); the entire set of overhead transparencies of diagrams and gures produced by the

    publisher of the course text (Russell, 1998) that he incorporated into his lectures; a copy of each

    participants three exams (corrected and graded) and both midterm and nal grades; and a copy of

    the oppy disk that he distributed to each student enrolled in the course. This disk contained the

    textual information from the hand-written overhead transparencies used in his lectures.

    Information on this disk is subsequently referred to as the transparency transcript. It is important

    to note that Dr. Bradshaw stated to the class that he did not envision the material on the oppy disk

    distributed to students to be formal lecture notes, as characterized and described in both

    pedagogical and research literature (e.g., in Stencel, 2003). Instead, he frequently reminded

    students that the information on the disk should only be viewed as a starting point for writing a

    good set of notes for his genetics course.

    Participant Notebooks

    Participants notebooks were collected by researchers at the end of each lecture class period.

    Notebook pages of each participant for each day were photocopied; highlighting and other uses of

    color were replicated on the photocopies. Notebooks were returned to participants within an hour

    following each class lecture. These notes are subsequently referred to as the original notes.

    Although not every participant left her notes after every lecture, there was a 69% compliance

    rate. At the end of the semester, 20 participants (86%) shared their notebooks with the researchers.

    These notebooks were photocopied in their entirety, and use of color was replicated on the copies.

    These notes are subsequently referred to as the nal notes.


  • To facilitate an examination of participants notes, a two-part checklist was developed: for the

    89 tables and gures located in the course textbook that Dr. Bradshaw referenced during his

    lectures and for traces of physical characteristics that participants used to describe their notes (e.g.,

    use of color, underlining, and references to diagrams). Figureswere included as part of the analysis

    because, frequently, in discussions of science, they traditionally play a crucial role in the

    understanding of concepts, often used as representations of ideas (McGinn & Roth, 1999). The

    physical characteristics of notes were, in themajority of instances, the same as thosementioned by

    students in the Van Meter et al. (1994) study.

    Both the original notes (the version obtained following the class lecture) and the nal notes

    (the version submitted at the end of the course) were analyzed, using the two-part checklist. To

    establish reliability of the evaluation of participants notes, a randomly selected sample of seven

    notebooks (both original and nal versions) and the accompanying two-part checklist were

    provided to a member of the biology faculty for analysis. The percentage of agreement in the

    analysis of specic tables and gures was 96%; in the analysis of identifying physical

    characteristics, it was 93%. Differences were easily resolved.

    Because Van Meter et al.s (1994) students claimed that they adjusted their note-taking

    strategies based on their test performance, researchers used the placement of the three course tests

    to divide the course. Based on this division of the course, each set of notes was also split into three

    parts, each corresponding to one of the three time segments of the course: prior to Exam 1

    (Weeks 15); betweenExam1 andExam2 (Weeks 611); and betweenExam2 and the nal exam

    (Weeks 1214). Two matricesone for original notes and another for nal noteswere

    developed for each of the three course segments to summarizewhat participants notes looked like

    at each of these stages in the course.

    Finally, to facilitate a more thorough content analysis of participant notes, seven genetics

    topics were selected from the course notes based on two criteria: placement in the semester and

    biological content important to an understanding of undergraduate genetics. The course syllabus

    indicated, and dates provided in student notes veried, that each topic was the focus of at least one

    50-minute lecture period. The seven topics included branch diagrams, the highly similar concepts

    of epistasis/expressivity/penetrance/pleiotropy, the experimental work of Grifth, the experi-

    mental work of Creighton and McClintock, the experimental work of Meselson and Stahl,

    production ofmRNA in transcription, and translation in eukaryotes. For each of the seven topics, a

    set of notes was developed, based on what the researchers believed was reasonable notes for an

    understanding of the concept. These reasonable notes were not prepared during the class lectures,

    as were the participants notes, but they reect what Dr. Bradshaw stated he had covered in the

    lecture. Because the instructor did not regard the transparency transcript as formal class notes,

    substantial supplementation and reformatting were sometimes necessary to produce notes that

    would adequately explain the concept.

    For example, the transparency transcript for one of seven topics, the MeselsonStahl

    experiment discussed toward the middle of the semester, is shown in its entirety in Figure 2.

    Researchers decided that a satisfactory set of student notes for the MeselsonStahl experiment



    Equilibrium density gradient centrifugation

    DNA will come to equilibrium (float) where its buoyant density equals the density of the surrounding CsCl

    Figure 2. Section of transparency transcript for MeselsonStahl experiment.


  • should include the following information: (1) the three hypothesized models of DNA replication;

    (2) details regarding the protocol followed by Meselson and Stahl, specically the growth of

    bacteria in two different nitrogen isotopes, removal of bacteria from the culture at various times

    during the experiment, and differential centrifugation of the bacteria; (3) details regarding the

    results obtained byMeselson and Stahl, specically the patterns formed by the centrifuged DNA;

    and (4)Meselson and Stahls interpretation of their results, connecting back to the three originally

    hypothesizedmodels.Moreover, these points were all addressed byDr. Bradshaw, as conrmed by


    The seven sets of notes were provided to another member of the biology department, familiar

    with genetics, for cross-validation. After discussion, a nal draft of these notes was constructed

    and agreed on for each of the seven topics. It was assumed that the seven sets of notes developed by

    the expert biologists theoretically would provide a student with reasonable information for

    understanding each topic. The sets of notes for the seven designated genetics concepts are

    subsequently referred to as the adequate representation. The adequate representation was seen by

    the researchers primarily as a standard towhich the notes of all the participants could be compared

    and, therefore, compared with each other.

    To quantify the thoroughness of each participants notes, an assessment system was

    developed to compare each participants notes with the adequate representation for each of the

    sevendesignated topics. Apoint valuewas assigned to each part of the satisfactory notes, and a raw

    score was determined for each set of participant notes. This was then converted to a percentage

    value that was referred to as the percentage of adequate representation. This analysis was

    conducted for the seven designated topics in both the original and the nal version of each

    participants notes. To establish reliability of the evaluation of percentage of adequate

    representation, a randomly selected sample of seven student notebooks (both original and nal

    versions)was assessed by the rst author and anothermember of the biology faculty. Percentage of

    agreement among the assessors was estimated to be 88%. Of course, these calculated adequate

    representation values represent estimates rather than exact proportions of elements deemed

    critical by the biologists. Moreover, because each student in a genetics class has different prior

    knowledge, cognitive traits, and motivational attributes, and because each student processes

    information differently, there is no practical way to establish an absolute standard of perfect

    validity relative to the adequate representation, given the delimitations of such an exploratory


    Participant Textbooks

    In the CSTN (Van Meter et al., 1994), students stated in the interviews that their course

    textbook played a role in their academic strategies, especially in more difcult and hard-to-take-

    notes courses. At the end of the semester, 14 students (61%) agreed to share their course textbook,

    Russells Genetics (1998), a text used routinely in undergraduate genetics courses. Because the

    instructor required the most recent edition (fth) of the textbook, all but three of the students had

    purchased their text as new. Those owning used texts reported that they were either unmarked or

    minimally marked at the time of purchase.

    Each textbook was analyzed along two lines: for suggestions that participants had referred

    to gures and tables, and for suggestions that they had read the actual text. First, because

    Dr. Bradshaws lecture notes included the publisher-produced overhead transparencies that he

    incorporated into his lectures, it was possible for the researchers to generate a list of these gures

    and tables. Textbooks were then surveyed to determine which (if any) of the 89 gures and tables

    referenced byDr. Bradshaw in lectureweremarked in someway by the selected participant, and in


  • what manner. Second, the 11 chapters of each participants text that were covered in the genetics

    course, a total of 380 pages, were examined, and an inventory was developed for each participant

    that listed pages of her textbook (if any) that she had marked in some manner. To establish

    reliability of the evaluation of textbooks, a randomly selected sample of seven participant

    textbooks from the 14 available was assessed by a member of the biology faculty. Percentage of

    agreement in the analysis of gures and tables between the two raters was 97%. The percentage of

    agreement in the survey of the textbook chapters was 95%.

    Although the researchers recognized that participant annotation of a textbook did not

    necessarily imply that a participant had used her textbook, they hypothesized that such annotation

    perhaps could provide some rudimentary evidence of a thought trail. Therefore, a comparison

    was made between the list of gures and tables mentioned in each participants notes and those

    actually marked in some manner in her textbook. A table of textbook use was developed that

    summarized each participants use of her textbook within each of the three course segments.

    Finally, these three tables were collapsed into a single composite matrix that summarized what

    participants textbooks looked like at the end of this semester-long genetics course. Because the

    textbooks were only collected at the end of the semester, there was no way to determine when the

    textbooks had been marked.


    A composite theory of note-taking beliefs held by participants in the current study was rst

    compared with VanMeter et al.s (1994) CSTN. An analysis of participants note-taking was also


    Comparison of Participants Theory of Note-Taking With Van Meters Theory

    VanMeter et al. (1994) derived the CSTN from the statements about note-taking expressed in

    interviews by students in their study. Similarly, participants in the present study presented their

    beliefs about note-taking in interviews. These beliefs constituted the material from which their

    theory of note-takingwas developed. As in theVanMeter study, participants in this studywere not

    simply administered a questionnaire to solicit their note-taking beliefs but were individually

    interviewed. Each participant was credited for adhering to a particular aspect of note-taking

    theoryfor example, use of color, underlining, or bulletsonly if she specically mentioned the

    point during an interview. Even within these restrictions, however, there appeared to be a high

    degree of similarity between the students in this study and those in Van Meters study.

    Participants theory of note-taking was generally similar to Van Meters (1994) CSTN in

    numerous ways, although direct comparisons of data between this study and Van Meters are

    impossible. First, the CSTN had corroborated existing note-taking literature in several aspects.

    Participants in the present study held similar beliefs. Specically, 91% of participants stated that

    they always or usually took notes in class. Eighty-seven percent described an instructors pace,

    organization, or cues as characteristics that affected their ability to take good notes. Seventy-eight

    percent of participants stated that they attempted to organize lecturematerial as they entered it into

    their notes. Ninety-six percent claimed that their note-taking skills had improved during their

    years in college. Sixty-one percent explained that their prior knowledge in a course affected their

    ability to take notes. All participants stated that they engaged in some form of postclass processing

    of their notes. Second, the CSTN included aspects of note-taking that had not been revealed by

    prior research, such as having multiple goals for taking notes and the relationship between the

    difculty of the course and adaptations in note-taking. In the present study, 87% of participants


  • described having multiple goals for taking notes. In the initial interview, however, no participant

    suggested the course difculty/note-taking connection. (Again, it should be mentioned that

    participants views were derived from what they initiated in interviews, not from a questionnaire

    that provided them with options from which to choose. This lack of comments regarding the

    connection was predictive of participants future outcomes in the semester.) Finally, the CSTN

    contradicted existing note-taking literature by stating that students consciously decided either to

    take notes verbatim or to paraphrase. About half of participants in this study explained that they

    attempted to copy notes in a verbatim fashion to ensure delity of whatwas said by the teacher; the

    other half of the participants paraphrased what the teacher said, reportedly to ensure that they

    understood the teachers explanations.

    Application of Participants Theory of Note-Taking

    A foremost consideration prior to the analysis of participants note-taking was their

    perception of the effect of using the transparency transcript on the note-taking process.

    Participants generally did not view their use of the transparency transcript as a liabilitywhen asked

    if their progress in the course would have been different if they had taken notes on their own.

    Thats what I started out doing [at the beginning of the semester], one student explained,

    because I thought it would be better if I wrote it [out for myself] because I learn a lot better [that

    way]. But hewas going too fast. I couldnt even get all the notes down (JR; 5; 4748).1Moreover,

    she thought she would probably have taken her own notes in basically the same format [as the

    transparency transcript] (JR; 5; 49), so she would have had to make the same adaptations to her

    studying technique whether she had used her own notes or the transcript. Other participants

    generally concurred, reporting that they used the transparency transcript as a general outline that

    they lled in during lecture or in reading the text. This conclusion is supported by the notes of the

    only student who did not use the transparency transcript at all. Her average percentage of adequate

    representation value for the three designated passages in the rst course segment was 39%,

    compared with the class average of 31%; her average adequate representation value for the three

    passages in the second course segment was 44%, compared with the class average of 43%. Only

    her nal passage, scored at 80% of adequate representation, differed appreciably from the class

    average of 25%.

    Participants application of their theory of note-taking was observed by studying their

    notebooks and textbooks. This examination indicated that participants did not apply their theory of

    note-taking as consistently as their interviews suggested. The inconsistencies were revealed in

    three major areas: (1) their description of good notes; (2) their claim that they could easily

    recognize and adjust to the direction in which a professor was leading a course; and (3) their claim

    that they modied their note-taking according to the demands of the course.

    Identifying Good Notes

    In the rst week of the course, Josie described how she took good notes. I dont take down

    [isolated] words; she stated:

    I write down complete phrases, almost complete sentences. Its what helps me to

    remember. And if I write down the whole thing, Im always thinking about what I know

    and what Im talking about when I go back and read them. (JR; 1; 1416)

    Other participants agreed that good notesshould be accurate, complete, and organized, and

    provided detailed descriptions of how they accomplished these goals. A review of Josies notes for


  • the rst course segment told a somewhat different story, however. Her notes included no complete

    sentences and no complete phrases. By her own denition, Josie began the course with notes that

    she could not use. Shewas not unusual in either her insistence that she knewhow to take good notes

    or in the discrepancy between her beliefs and their application; arguably, shewas representative of

    the group.

    Attention to accuracy. The need for accurate notes was mentioned frequently by participants.

    One participant, for example, declared that a good set of notes should be exactly what was

    taught (US; 1; 5).

    Whereas participants interviews emphasized the importance of accurate notes, an

    examination of these notes suggested that the theory was not always applied. Specically, this

    analysis of the evidence focused on the inspection of the designated topic of branch diagramming,

    an algorithmic operation commonly used as a short cut to solve some Mendelian genetics

    problems. The actual details of the branch diagram were presented during lecture on a

    transparency, showing the sample cross as Ss Ss. Because the lower case s was written onthe lecture transparency in script with a long tail, all but one participant (n 17)2 miscopied thesample representation as Sp Sp rather than as Ss Ss. When participants continuedmistakenly to use p instead of s in the elaboration of the genetic makeup of the offspring

    from the cross, the information theywrote failed tomake genetic sense. Yet such errors apparently

    were not realized by participants, even though many of them continued to comment on their

    inability to understand branch diagramming. For some participants, this confusion extended

    throughout the semester, up to their preparation for the nal exam. None of the participants

    included a correction of this erroneous substitution of Sp for Ss in the nal version of her

    notes. The difculty could have been easily addressed if participants did what they said they

    frequently didreturn to their textbook for conceptual clarication. For example, Figure 2.12 in

    the text (Russell, 1998, p. 28), the same gure that Dr. Bradshaw used in class to teach the concept

    of branch diagramming, clearly shows that the cross is Ss Ss.Attention to completeness. Participants declared that they did not just want their notes to be

    accurate; they also wanted notes to be complete. In addition, many participants related the

    completeness of their notes to the thoroughness of their understanding of the course content. For

    example, one participant described the importance of her notes: Theyre the material that I look

    atwhen I study for a test. Theyremyprimary source, so Iwant them to be as complete as possible

    (JM; 1; 1617). Another participant explained that, when taking notes in class, she wrote

    everything as much as I can; when Im studying, Im more selective (PS; 1; 9).

    Because participants described completeness as a particular concern when new vocabulary

    was presented during lecture, the inclusion and elucidation of denitions was a particular focus of

    researchers. Analysis of a designated topic of notes from early in the rst course segment

    (Weeks 15) showed how participants apparently paid less attention to completeness of

    denitions in their notes than claims made during interviews. Four terms were developed in this

    section of notes: epistasis; expressivity; penetrance; and pleiotropy. There are several ways in

    which these four terms theoretically can be confusing. First, two terms start with e and two

    begin with p, setting the stage for ambiguity. A second difculty is meaning-based, because all

    fourwords describe some aspect of the interaction between genes and traits. Although participants

    implied that their interest in completeness would prompt them to detect and pay attention to this

    potential verbal morass, none of them included denitions of all four words in their notes. On

    Exam 1, the meanings of two of these four terms, penetrance and pleiotropy, were included, with

    participants required to identify the terms. In general, the more a participant had developed the

    differences and similarities among the four words in her notes, the better she recognized them on

    the vocabulary section of Exam 1. For example, the seven participants who got both terms correct


  • included an average of 2.8 of the possible four denitions in their notes; the nine participants who

    got only one of the denitions correct included an average of only 1.5 denitions. In addition, 66%

    of the latter group gave as their answer one of the other three terms in the original grouping of four.

    The concern for correctness in the participants theory of note-takingwas shown to be justied; the

    participants, however, did not seem to apply it consistently.

    Attention to organization. In addition to accuracy and completeness, organization was the

    third and most frequently mentioned hallmark by which participants characterized their notes.

    When participants were asked to describe the typical appearance of their notes, three fths of them

    mentioned organization, using words similar to this participant: [good notes] are consistent,

    organized, dated, the [handouts] are in order, theres a very clear format (PB; 1; 17). Headings,

    spacing, underlining, using color, indenting, bulleting, or outlining were all mentioned as aspects

    of organization. Moreover, about half of the participants estimated that during their college years

    they had learned to better organize their notes.

    One of the designated topics of notes in the second course segment (Weeks 611) was chosen

    by researchers because it presented an opportunity to assess the organization of participants

    notes. The topic of the passage was RNA transcription, the process by which RNA is copied (or

    transcribed) from DNA. Transcription can be explained as occurring in three steps resulting in

    RNA, which is then modied in a series of changes, described as occurring in three substeps. The

    problem in this passage (Figure 3) was formatting, because the transparency transcript merely

    listed phrases and made no distinction between the three major steps and the three substeps.

    Many participants had declared that the organization of their notes mirrored their

    understanding of the content. One participant, for example, explained that my notes have to

    be really organized or my mind is jumbled, too (GL; 1; 21). Only one fourth of participants

    (n 20) attempted to reformat the information to make the three major steps of RNA formation

    Figure 3. Section of transparency transcript for RNA transcription.


  • stand out; about two thirds tried to reorganize the phrases to highlight the three substeps. Overall,

    one fourth of participants did nothing to distinguish between the steps and the substeps in this

    passage. Exam 2 included a question based on the topic of RNA transcription: List three

    processing events that modify eukaryotic pre-mRNA following transcription to produce a mature

    message (Exam 2). Participants apparently had considerable difculty with this question, with

    about two fths of them confusing the three major steps with the three minor substeps. In the

    interviews, participants seemed to acknowledge a notemind connection, but did not apply it

    consistently in their notes.

    A few days after Exam 2, the topic covered in the genetics class was the process by which

    RNA directs the building of protein (or translation). Translation can be described as occurring in

    three steps. The middle step of the three can be explained as being comprised of three substeps.

    Again, the transparency transcript showed no distinction betweenmajor steps andminor substeps.

    The satisfactory set of notes suggested that reorganization of informationdistinguishing steps

    from substepswould facilitate understanding of this passage. One fth of participants (n 20)acknowledged a relationship among the three major steps in their notes; only four participants

    attempted to organize the three substeps. Only one participant reorganized the information at both

    the major step and minor substep levels.

    The nal exam included a question that required students to apply their understanding of both

    transcription and translation to a hypothetical situation:

    The eyes of Ewigs [a hypothetical organism used by Dr. Bradshaw in many of his

    discussion and exam questions] are normally light green. As a worlds expert on Ewing

    genetics, you isolate a mutation, whitelite, which causes the eyes to be white. You clone

    and sequence the gene and nd that the mutation is one that puts a stop codon in the 50 endof the protein coding sequence of a gene responsible for eye color. What effect would this

    mutation have on transcription? What effect would this mutation have on translation?

    (Final Exam)

    Eight participants (n 23) incorrectly answered both parts of the question, and six wroteincorrect answers for either part one or part two. Although there was no absolute pattern

    connecting the percentage of adequate representation for transcription and translation in

    participants notes and their ability to answer these questions, no participant whose notes

    had a percentage of adequate representation lower than 55% was able to answer the questions


    In general, therefore, although participants described their notes as exemplifying accuracy,

    completeness, and organization, the analysis of those notes suggested that their application of their

    note-taking theory was not always consistent.

    Recognizing Instructors Cues

    Participants spoke of how they had become procient at interpreting the instructors cues

    about the importance of specic information likely to be included on exams. They said that reading

    the textbook before class enabled them to detect important points presented by the instructor and

    claimed that reading the textbook after class helped them to ll in gaps that they sensed in lecture

    material from class. An analysis of participants notebooks, however, indicated that participants

    apparently failed to notice Dr. Bradshaws cues in two important areas: the role of gures and

    diagrams in his lecture and the importance of the classic genetics experiments in the structure of

    the course.


  • The role of gures.During his lectures, Dr. Bradshaw frequently referred directly to textbook

    gures, showing a facsimile transparency of the gure using an overhead projector. Typically,

    these gures (e.g., data tables, graphs, or diagrams) were not used by Dr. Bradshaw as mere

    representations, like a photograph of Watson and Crick. Rather, transparencies were used during

    lecture as scientists frequently use such devicesas representations of the actual concept

    (McGinn & Roth, 1999). Dr. Bradshaws lecture typically incorporated a diagram or graph that

    became a focal point for the classroom conversation that followed. Participants did not

    immediately recognize either how Dr. Bradshaw used gures from the text as representations of

    concepts in his genetics lectures or how keeping a record of these representations could be

    important to their academic success. One participant explained her initial approach to the

    incorporation of diagrams:

    They were set up in the [text] book in little boxes that were a different color. Its like [the

    authors] were saying, Take a little break from reading this [text material] and read this for

    a whileits not as hard. (AL; 4; 26)

    As participants progressed through the semester, they modied their note-taking strategies

    and included more diagrams in their notes in at least two ways: by jotting down in their notes the

    page from the textbook onwhich the diagramwas located, and by drawing the gure in their notes.

    As students in the VanMeter et al. study (1994) stated, it is particularly difcult to draw a diagram

    that the instructor is sketching at the board, while at the same time listening and taking notes. It is

    even more challenging to draw the diagram, listen, and take notes when the gure is already

    constructed on an overhead transparency. Therefore,many participants explained that theymade a

    notation in their notebooks, referring them to a particular textbook diagram that had been an

    integral part of the class presentation of a particular topic. As some participants described their

    developing strategy, it appeared that they had recognized the importance of these diagrams. We

    go through the textbook in class, commented one participant, who further stated:

    And he shows us gure after gure. Sometimes Ill write in it, when hes going through it.

    Then when I go back, I think about what I wrote and thing about what he was saying in

    class. If he used the gure in class, I go back and read the text that matches the gure, then I

    go and study the gure. (FT; 4; 4649)

    An examination of participants original notes (Table 1) indicated that, in the rst course

    segment (before Exam 1), participants notes included an average of 4.7 references to gures in

    their textbook and an average of 0.3 personally constructed diagram. Original notes for the second

    course segment showed an increase in references to gures of 274%and an increase of over 2000%

    in gures drawn when compared with the rst course segment. In the third course segment,

    Table 1

    Comparison of references to textbook diagrams made by participants in notes during the genetics course

    Course Segment

    References to Textbook Diagrams

    Diagrams in TextbookAnnotated Postclass (%)Potential Diagrams

    Page Referencein Notes

    Hand-DrawnDiagram in Notes

    I 26 4.7 0.3 30II 42 17.6 6.5 51IIIa 45 9.5 3.0 37

    aValues for Course Segment III were adjusted to reect the shorter time period of that segment.


  • references to textbook gures by each participant decreased to 9.5 and the number of additional

    diagrams decreased to 3.0 for each participant. (Because the third course segment comprised one

    third the number of days in each of the rst two course segments, the 5-day value for references to

    gures and added diagrams was adjusted proportionately to a 15-day value, to more clearly

    compare with the rst and second course segments.)

    Researchers acknowledged that, just because a participant referred to a gure in her notes, it

    did not necessarilymean that she had looked at the gure. Indeed, this possibilitywas corroborated

    by some participants. Ursula, who was repeating the genetics course because she had failed it

    previously, commented: Its not like I didnt read the textbook [last year]. But when I was

    highlighting, it didnt mean that I was reading it. Okay, Im highlighting, but I wasnt

    understanding. Now when I read [the text] over, I think, Why didnt I get this last semester?

    (US; 3; 1213). A cross-check was made between textbook diagrams referenced in notes and

    actual diagrams in the textbook. In notes for the rst course segment, 30% of referenced gures in

    the textbook showed some evidence of a later visit by the participantsfor example, highlighting,

    underlining, or writing. In the second course segment, this increased to 51%, and in the third

    course segment it decreased to 37%. Because the textbooks were analyzed at the end of the

    semester, however, it was not possible to determine when the textbooks had been marked.

    Moreover, the researchers recognized that a participant looking up a gure and annotating it did

    not necessarily imply that she had used the gure in her study, but viewed such annotation as

    evidence of a thought trail.

    The importance of classic genetics experiments.Dr. Bradshaws genetics course was organi-

    zed around the accumulated understanding derived from classic genetics experiments. A few

    participants who recognized the structure of the course responded like this one: I knew [they

    were important] when we rst started talking about them. Thats how the course is organized

    (MC; 4; 13). The majority of participants, however, did not recognize the key role of classic

    genetics experiments in the course. This comment was much more characteristic of the group:

    I recognized [their importance] just the other day [a few days before Exam 2] when I started

    studying. As I studied each experiment, I realized how one experiment helps the next one (GL; 3;


    The rst encounter that participants had with classic genetics experiments occurred midway

    through the rst course segment with thework of Harriet Creighton and BarbaraMcClintock, who

    showed that, when an exchange of genetic information (or recombination) occurs, it is

    accompanied by a simultaneous exchange of chromosome sections. The inadequacy of some

    participants notes for this topic became obvious when they considered a question on Exam 1:

    Explain how Creighton and McClintock experimentally linked gene recombination and the

    physical exchange of chromosome material. You may (and should) use drawings (Exam 1). As

    one participant confessed in the second interview:

    I read the book and I remember seeing that [about McClintock and Creighton] and I just

    skimmed over it. It was in a box or something. And I was: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. They do

    corn and recombination. And we got to the test and that was the whole essay question. He

    wanted diagrams and I just skimmed it. I didnt even remember enough to bullcrap it. It

    was terrible. (JR; 3; 8183)

    Shewas not alone in her reaction to the exam question. Only ve participants (n 23) got fullcredit for the question and included a diagram that correctly matched the content of the question.

    Twelve others drew a diagram, but it was related to a different topic, not Creighton and

    McClintocks work. Six participants drew no diagram at all.


  • After Exam 1, participants reported that they had been generally unprepared for the exam

    question that dealt with Creighton and McClintocks research because they had not understood

    that these classic genetics experimentswere important to the professor, as reected by items on the

    exam. Did participants learn from this experience and modify their notes with regard to the next

    classic experiment in the course? That topic, the experimental work of Frederick Grifth, was

    presented in lecture byDr. Bradshaw a few days after Exam1. The average percentage of adequate

    representation of the Grifth passage in the original version of the notes (n 10) was 47%, aconsiderable increase from the average score of 27% for the original version of the designated

    topic on the CreightonMcClintock experiment. Although the exam question based on the

    CreightonMcClintock experiment encouraged students to include a diagram in their answer,

    only one participant included a reference to a textbook diagram or an actual drawing of a diagram

    of Grifths experiment in her original notes. Inclusion of one perhaps would have claried

    participants understanding of Grifths research and been an indication of the type of carryover

    they claimed they conducted throughout the course.

    The experimental work of Meselson and Stahl was the topic of another designated passage

    of notes that dealt with classic genetics experiments. Their experiment, which developed a

    model to explain the process by which DNA replicates, was covered in one class period midway

    in the second segment of the course (between Exam1 andExam2). The textbook (Russell, 1998)

    presents the experiment over four pages, about half of which are devoted to diagrams. Because

    an understanding of thework of these two researchers requires comprehension of the differences

    and similarities among their three hypothetical models, the satisfactory set of notes included

    specic details of those models. The notes of only six participants (n 16), however, includedinformation about Meselson and Stahls three models. In addition, although the transparency

    transcript devoted little attention to the results of Meselson and Stahls experiments, only

    two participants elaborated in their notes on these researchers experimental results. The

    percentage of adequate representation of the passage in the original version of the notes of

    participants was 30%. Only 10 participants included any diagrams in their notes or references to

    text gures.

    A question appearing on Exam 2 indicated the level of conceptual integration that

    Dr. Bradshaw expected for this topic:

    Describe the Meselson and Stahl experiment that used equilibrium centrifugation

    techniques to conrm the semi-conservative nature of DNA replication. Include

    experimental techniques and results. Further, describe what the expected results would

    have been if replication were conservative instead of semi-conservative. (Exam 2)

    This question suggested that Dr. Bradshaw expected participants to develop aspects of the

    experiment in a manner consistent with the satisfactory notes. An analysis of participants exams

    (n 23) revealed that half of participants either included no diagram in their answer or drew adiagram that suggested a misunderstanding related to the explanation. Only one participant was

    able to fully answer the question; moreover, she produced the only set of notes to include a full

    explanation of the experiment.

    Changes in Note-Taking Strategies

    In line with the CSTN, participants in the genetics course recognized the inadequacy of their

    course notes after Exam 1 and began to change how they took notes. Their strategies consisted of

    several approaches.


  • Toward the beginning of the course, Susannah realized her notes were not sufcient. The

    [printed] notes are just an outline, she stated. If I dont ll up the page with [extra] notes

    everywhere, I dont know what it is [when I go back to study] (SA; 3; 32). Her strategy was

    trying to jot downwhat he actually says [in class] . . . . I think I miss a lot of stuffinformation isying at you (SA; 3; 3335). A look at the original version of Susannahs notes indicates that she

    followed up on her resolution. In her notes, the three topics in the rst course segment had a

    percentage of adequate representation of 39%; the three topics written in the second course

    segment were estimated at 70%. The percentage of adequate representation of Susannahs notes

    for the third course segment was 100%. Shewas one of only four participants whose original notes

    showed a steady improvement in adequate representation over the semester, and was the only

    participant whose original notes scored that high at the end of the course.

    Linda also targeted her course notes, explaining that her improved in-class note-taking was

    the consequence of concerted attention to detail. She described how she learned to pay more

    attention to the details of the course. When [Dr. Bradshaw] explains stuff, she said:

    He asks for little details that I think wouldnt be importantlike what are the primers

    made out of? I didnt think that would be important. I just thought youd have to know the

    function of a primer. He brought that up again in class yesterday, and I was: Whoa, better

    write that down. (LS; 3; 3132)

    Linda commented at the beginning of the course that she preferred her notes to be little

    jottings (LS; 1; 7). The percentage of adequate representation for Lindas original notes in the

    rst course segment reected this preferenceit was only 17%. The percentage of adequate

    representation for her original notes of the second course segment, however, increased to 55%,

    possibly bolstered by her greater attention to detail. By the end of the semester, however, Lindas

    percentage of adequate representation dropped to 38%.

    Examination of the original notes of all participants for the seven designated topics indicated

    that the overall quality improved to some extent. The rst course segment, a 5-week period that

    extended to Exam 1, included three designated topics of notes. The average percentage of

    adequate representation of the original version of these three topics for all participants was

    estimated to be 31%; that is, participants included about one third of the information in the satis-

    factory set of notes. For the three designated topics of notes in the second course segment, a 6-week

    time period betweenExam1 andExam2, the average percentage of adequate representation for all

    participants increased to 43%; that is, the notes included about one third more necessary

    information than the notes of the rst course segment. However, for the single designated topic in

    the third part of the course, a 2-week time period between Exam 2 and the nal exam, the average

    percentage of adequate representation decreased to 25%, that is, the notes included relatively less

    necessary information than notes at the beginning of the course. Again, as with the inclusion of

    diagrams, the amount of necessary information included in notes appeared to decline in the last

    weeks of the course. Although the reasons for the apparent decline are numerous, a common one

    suggested by participantswas frustration. This comment from Josie,made a fewdays before Exam

    2,was typical: [Genetics] isnt looking good.Honestly, Ive never said this about a class, but I just

    want to pass it and get out of there. I dont know if I am (JR; 4; 12).

    Like Susannah and Linda, Josie also decided that her notes would be a good starting place for

    improvement after she performed poorly on Exam 1. Initially, she had not understood the

    importance of the classic genetics experiments in the course. I thought [Dr. Bradshaw]was using

    experiments as an example to support, but the experiment is what he wants us to know (JR; 3;

    117118), she explained. Therefore, she focused on intensifying the postclass modication of her


  • notes for the classic experiments, adding extra details on what she called summary sheets that

    she kept in her notebook. Look at this, she exclaimed, ipping through sheets of paper covered

    with drawings. She continued:

    I went back [after class] and did this. These arent class notes. I hardly write down anything

    from class. But I went back and wrote all of this . . . . For this [second exam], I didnt justread [the textbook]. I read it and tried to realize it in my headwhat was going on. And for

    the experiments, I went back and drew them out . . . I drew them out so I can understand itand how I can remember it. (JR; 4; 3538)

    Josie explained that learning how to do this was not easy. There are no cues at all [in lecture]

    of whats more important, she said. It seems to be a huge run-on sentence. I cant pick out the

    beginning of one and the end of another concept (JR; 3; 100101). The percentage of adequate

    representation of her original notes stayed about the same. As her ability to select key points got

    better, however, her notes showed consistent improvement over the semester, due to improved

    postclass modication. At the end of the semester, Josie explained what she had done to make her

    notes useful: I had to take this [information in the notes] and look it up [in the textbook] and

    translate it (JR; 5; 64).

    Each of the 23 participants stated in interviews that postclass processing of notes was an

    important part of her general use of notes. Did their notes support this claim? For those who had

    submitted their notebooks at the end of the semester (n 20), it was possible to draw a comparisonbetween the percentage of adequate representation of their original notes (obtained immediately

    after each lecture period) and their nal notes (collected at the end of the semester). It was assumed

    that the difference between the two versions would reect the degree of postclass modication the

    participant had conducted on that portion of her notes. (It should be noted that, because of the

    studys design, there was no way of determining when the postclass modication had occurred.)

    The analysis of the difference between the two versions of notes for all the participants who

    submitted their notes at the end of the semester varied from one course segment to another during

    the semester. In the three designated topics of the rst course segment, the average percentage of

    adequate representations of the original and nal versions of the notes for all participants were

    almost identical, 31% and 36%, respectively, suggesting that little postclass modication

    occurred. In the three designated topics of the second course segment, the average percentage of

    adequate representation for all participants was 43% for the original version and 61% for the nal

    version, suggesting that participants devoted more time to processing their notes after lecture. In

    the third course segment, the average percentage of adequate representation of the original version

    was 25% and improved to 60% in the nal version. There appeared to be no further increase after

    the second course segment.

    Some participants, such as Susannah and Josie, altered their note-taking strategies using

    rather traditional methods such as targeting their in-class notes or their postclass modication of

    notes. Others developed more idiosyncratic strategies. Bonnies progress through the semester

    illustrates the latter approach. She described how she set a goal for herself after she failed the rst

    examto see how it all ts together in the genetics course (BT; 3; 16). Bonnie was asked to

    describe her focus. He might give you a phrase; she stated further:

    But you have to know everything that comes under that phrase, and every specic part of

    that phrase. Like he might give a scientists name. But you have to know the experiment

    the ins and out of the experimentand he didnt write that down [in the transparency

    transcript]. (BT; 5; 3941)


  • Bonnies targeted focus was to capture these ins and outs. But where did she locate them? She

    replied that she found them in her textbook and transferred the information to her notes. The

    content of Bonnies notes did not corroborate her answer, however. The percentage of adequate

    representation for the rst course segment was 38%. The notes for the second course segment

    notes taken after she had made the resolution to t it all togetherhad a percentage of adequate

    representation of only 49%. Indeed, in the notes that she submitted at the end of the semester, the

    nal 17 pageswere stapled together inwhat appeared to be a completely random sequence. Bonnie

    said that she had targeted developing the big picture in her genetics course, but, to the researchers,

    it did not seem to be coming into focus in her notes.

    The discrepancywas partially explainedwhenBonnie described how she integrated her notes

    and her textbook with the use of what she called her study cards.When she read the textbook to

    supplement deciencies in her notes, she did not add information to the notes themselves, but

    wrote it on her study cards. As she explained the strategy she employed when she studied, it

    became apparent that the process she had developed during the semester was complicated:

    When I studied, I compared my notes to somebody elses notes, instead of just studying my

    notes. And when I talked about it with someone else in my study group, I took their notes

    and put them on my study cards. So my study cards are a combination of my notes and

    someone elses notes. (BT; 5; 2830)

    When Bonnie described her cards, it sounded as though that they were an assembly of

    Dr. Bradshaws transparency transcript, supplemental information from the textbook, and the

    notes of other students. But even that, it was learned, was not the whole situation. She explained

    what frequently happened when she studied with Patty, another student in the class:

    If Im studying with Patty out loud, I dont even look at my study cards. If Im with Patty,

    she repeats her notes and when I give her more information she adds to her notes what I

    say. She repeats it over and over and over again. Im hearing her say it. I never look at my

    study cards when Im studying at her house because she repeats her study cards, with both

    of our information on them. (BT; 5; 3336)

    Bonniewas intent on tting it all together, but the concepts were physically represented on

    dozens of cards, each a collage of facts from various sources. Some information was not even

    found in her collection of cards. Bonnie had developed a reasonable targeted strategy but the

    results sounded like a tenuous representation, at best. When she gathered up her set of study cards

    and went home, where was the big picture she had labored so hard to t together? She had taken

    aim with a targeted strategy, but had perhaps not chosen the one that would contribute to her

    overall academic success.

    The strategies implemented byBonnie, Josie, Linda, and Susannahwere a hit-or-miss attempt

    at improvement. Each participant decided to target some problem area, for example, the classic

    experiments. Some, like Josie, ended up with manageable summary sheets, each adequately

    explaining one of the experiments; others, like Bonnie, found themselves with stacks of study

    cards, collectively holding only part of the big picture. Sometimes the four participants

    correctly focused on what was important to a topic, and other times they completely missed it. For

    example, although many participants mentioned the challenge of understanding the concept of

    RNA translation, Susannah was the only participant whose notes suggested that she had worked

    through the problem. She also specically alluded to the key diagram in the text in her discussion

    of the problem. The selectivity that characterizes the undergraduate note-taker (Van Meter et al.,

    1994)the ability to recognize information that is either unfamiliar or importantdescribed


  • these four participants to only a partial degree. In many cases, they recognized whenmaterial was

    unfamiliar, but had difculty noticing when it was important. In this regard, they were

    representative of the majority of the other participants.


    Van Meter et al. (1994) described student notes evolving over time. It is an apt choice of

    words. Species evolve when they are subjected to stressesthe greater the stresses, the more

    signicant the evolution. The genetics course was chosen as the focal course for the present study

    because the literature and the anecdotal evidence provided by previous biology departmentmajors

    indicated that students would nd it challenging. If the design of the current research had included

    only student interviews, the study would have provided a corroboration of the CSTN (Van Meter

    et al., 1994), but little else. The design of the current study, howeverits longitudinal nature, its

    naturalistic setting with student academic accountability, its examination of notes and textbooks,

    as well as interviewsenabled researchers to develop amore complete understanding of the note-

    taking process for the participants.

    One particular area of this understandingwas what made this particular course a difcult one.

    When Van Meter et al. (1994) distinguished between easy-to-take-notes courses and difcult-to-

    take-notes courses, they concentrated on the circumstances of the lecture situation, such as the

    pace and organization of the instructor. They also mentioned that one of their manuscript

    reviewers suggested an alternative explanation for course difcultyit might be that courses in

    which it is more difcult to take notes are simply more difcult courses. That reviewers

    suggestion may have been borne out in this present study. Participants generally began the

    semester commenting that the course material was not particularly challenging; for example, one

    participant stated: In lecture theres never any time when I dont know where things are coming

    from (CL; 2; 34). By the midpoint in the semester, however, comments were more along these

    lines: [The course] is hard because its a lot ofmaterial and you have to put the pieces together and

    for me its been difcult to do. This is a part of this and that is a part of that. Doing things like that

    are more difcult than memorizing something (PS; 3; 1518). Coupled with the inherent

    challenge of the course content, however, were limitations in participants self-regulated learning

    that kept them from doing as well as they had hoped, from recognizing the weaknesses in their

    academic strategies, and from noticing the discrepancy between their theory of note-taking and its

    day-to-day application. Although it is not possible to separate completely the part played by the

    course itself and the role played by participants deciencies in SRL strategies, it appeared that the

    SRL limitations may have more profoundly determined the participants success in the course.

    Limited Prior Knowledge

    The CSTN (Van Meter et al., 1994) states that note-taking is greatly affected by prior

    knowledge in the content area of the course; participants concurred. Although participants

    claimed that they could easily detect from instructors cues what the important concepts would be

    in a course, examination of their notes revealed two areas that suggested this was not always the

    case: the use of gures and the importance of classic genetics experiments.

    Participants only began to pay attention to diagrams after Exam 1 (possibly after the

    CreightonMcClintock question suggested using one), and demonstrated an appreciable increase

    in attention to gures in their notes between Exams 1 and 2. Perhaps because this was a more

    mechanistic problem, participants found it easier to address. After Exam 2, however, the inclusion

    of diagrams went into an apparent decline, which will be addressed later.


  • Nowhere in the present studywas there greater support for the importance of prior knowledge

    than in participants understanding of how Dr. Bradshaw used classic genetics experiments in the

    course. Participants initially thought the references to early geneticists were unimportant details;

    they eventually discovered that the work of those early geneticists constituted a substantial part

    of the course material for which they were responsible. I had an epiphany, Bonnie declared,

    as well as:

    I understand this. I can do this. I see how this all comes together. You need to understand

    the conclusions of how thing happen. It took [this biologist] three peoples experiments to

    gure out what to do. It took me all four people to understand this [particular concept].

    (BT; 4; 2426)

    Participants had been told byDr. Bradshawwhat to expect in the course. Indeed, the rst page

    of the transparency transcript was a list of important geneticists and their contributions to the

    discipline. As with many students, however, the participants real introduction to course

    expectations apparently was not in the syllabus, but in Exam 1. Unfortunately, for many, the

    realization came too late.

    Participants tended to improve in their focus on classic experiments beginning with Exam 1

    and continuing throughout the semester, but the percentage of adequate representation for the

    designated classic experiment passages (the third, fourth, and fth passages) never exceeded 47%

    in the original notes and 52% in the nal version. The lack of specically targeted strategies may

    explain why the average adequate representation of the nal notes of designated topics remained

    stalled as the semester progressed. Perhaps the participants could not improve the quality of

    postclass modication because they did not understand the particular aspect of genetics enough to

    know what would be necessary to improve their notes. Although the subject matter still revolved

    around the same basic concepts of genetics, the precise nature of the topic they were learning was

    different enough from their prior knowledge to bind them in a classic self-assessment catch

    22they were so unskilled in an aspect of a domain that their incompetence made it difcult for

    them to realize their weaknesses (Kruger & Dunning, 1999).

    Limited Goals and Strategies

    Participants recognized that their success in the genetics course required the development of

    improved note-taking strategies. Throughout the course, however, their ability to modify their

    note-taking was affected by limitations of their goal-setting. At the beginning of the course,

    participants goals tended to be generic and grade-based: dowell in the course or get at least a

    B. After Exam 1, participants continued to describe goals that were grade-based and, for some,

    overly optimisticfor example, to get aBon the next test (CL; 3; 42),when they had not passed

    Exam 1. In addition, when participants explained their revised goals after they received the

    midterm grade, they often spoke in terms of turning things around (JR; 3; 25), or digging

    themselves out (SA 3; 28).

    Generally speaking, participants with broad goals faced at least two challenges: how to

    accomplish the goal and how to get regular feedback during progress toward that goal. Howdo you

    get a B on the next test? How do you knowwhen you have turned things around or when you have

    dug yourself out? Feedback from these generic goals only arrives after the test has been graded or

    students are out of the hole, not in a regular manner that permits students to adapt what they are

    doing; by the time they receive the feedback, it is too late to adapt. Moreover, participants with

    overly optimistic goals were frequently disappointed when those goals were not realized. If the


  • goalwas to get a B on the next test and the examgradewere aB, the student could easily interpretthe test results, however positive, as failure. Althoughmanydiscussed the need for changes in their

    note-taking, they apparently did not recognize the importance of incorporating that need as a

    specic goal.

    Throughout the semester, some participants stated goals that were specic, incremental,

    performance-based, and realistic. Participants reported goals such as taking better notes, regularly

    reading the textbook before class, keeping up with course vocabulary, working on problem sets,

    reviewing lecture notes routinely, and asking questions of Dr. Bradshaw. By formulating and

    working toward more realizable goals, they reaped at least two benets: they could identify when

    they had made progress toward that goal and the work that they were accomplishing enhanced

    their understanding of the course, making them believe that their efforts were worthwhile. Josie

    and Bonnie, for example, could point to their study sheets or study cards as evidence that they had

    made progress toward reaching their goal; moreover, their improved notes enabled them to do

    better on the course tests.

    This goal limitation may help to explain at least two declines in the participants overall

    performance. Although both the number of included diagrams and the quality of notes as reected

    by the percentage of adequate representation improved from Exam 1 to Exam 2, both decreased

    from Exam 2 to the end of the course. In the fourth interview, participants were asked to

    characterize themselves with three descriptive words. Slightly more than 50% of them (n 18)suggested either frustrated or overwhelmed. Although it is not possible to draw a direct

    correlation, it appears in many instances that participants who used such descriptions were those

    whose goals tended to bemore generic and overly optimistic. Students withmore inadequate goals

    apparently did not resign (Van Meter et al., 1994, p. 334), or quit, but may have resigned

    themselves to not doing well and reasoned that additional expenditure of effort was not

    worthwhile. Participantswithmore specic and incremental goals, however, continued to improve

    the quality of their notes throughout the semester. Moreover, they could acknowledge the effort

    they had expended and admit that it was worth it (WL; 5; 42).

    Participants ability tomodify their note-takingwas also limited by the strategy array towhich

    they could turn when note-taking modications were required. As a consequence, a participant

    might speak of the need for translating notes into her own words and might spend considerable

    time and energy trying to do so, but have little to show for her effort. In many cases, this occurred

    because the strategies were inappropriate to the task. For many participants, the note-taking

    changes put into practice involved writing more information on their study cards, arguably an

    unsophisticated academic approach. Other than the use of study cards and summary sheets, no

    participant appeared to develop any other modication of her note-taking practice.

    Limited Self-Observation During the Course

    During the performance phase of the genetics course, self-regulated note-takers focus on and

    monitor strategies that they are employing. Many participants, however, apparently failed to

    notice that their notes did not exemplify the hallmark characteristics they ascribed to them. After

    Exam 1, the course notes improved, but in many cases the improvement did not appear to be

    targeted toward any specic aspect of the genetics course, or to be derived from any particular part

    of Exam 1. For example, average percentage of adequate representation for notes about the classic

    experiment ofGrifth, discussed in class immediately after Exam1,was almost double that for the

    classic experiment of Creighton and McClintock, discussed in class prior to Exam 1. Interviews

    suggested, however, that most participants were not aware of any connection between the two

    topics. Clares comments during the fourth interview, about a week before Exam 2, are indicative


  • of this situation. After she described how she planned to prepare for Exam 2, she was asked how

    she intended to study the classic geneticists who might be included on the test. I would make

    [study] cards for themtheir major achievements, if they came up with any techniques, some of

    the detail in their experiment, what they studied, what they found, she reported (CL; 4; 4546).

    But, when Clare was asked when she had recognized that the course was focused on these classic

    genetics experiments, she candidly replied: I dont know that I ever thought about it before,

    probably until now that you made me think about it. I knew that was going on, but I never really

    thought about it in class before (CL; 4; 48).

    Throughout the semester, it was not unusual for a participant to have difculty answering a

    question that probed her understanding of a particular note-taking strategy that she regularly

    employed. A few days prior to Exam 2, for example, Josie was describing how she prepared

    ashcardswithwhich she could study. In themiddle of explaining how shewould prepare the cards

    to study for the genetics exam, she stopped abruptly. After a long pause, she acknowledged, I

    cant use ashcards at all [in genetics]. I [already] knew that about my philosophy course and my

    sociology course, but I didnt realize that about genetics until just now (JR; 2; 5657).

    It was recognized at the outset of this study that interviews with participants about their notes

    would not be entirely neutral in outcome.What had not been anticipated, however, was the almost

    therapeutic effect that the conversations had for many participants. Apparently, the interviews

    provided many participants not only a forum for a metacognitive conversation, but an awakening

    to the necessity of such a conversation. In the nal interview, participants were asked if the time

    they had put aside to take part in the study had been a liability. If I hadnt done it, one participant

    responded, I would have never had an opportunity to sit down and think about [taking notes].

    I would never think about how I learn, or how I put things together inmy head if I didnt have to tell

    someone else (BT; 5; 66). Apparently, she was not speaking only for herself, because, generally

    speaking, participants did not seem to be aware that students must turn their observation inward

    and watch themselves take notes, study, take tests, and carry out the other tasks inherent in being a

    student. Students who engage in such activity greatly improve their chance of succeeding; those

    who do not have a diminished possibility of doing well.

    Limited Self-Reection After the Course

    When a course is completed, self-regulated students evaluate their performance and decide

    whether the strategies they thoughtfully put into practice should be continued in courses to come.

    Many participants, confronting the immediate need to change their note-taking and study habits,

    did not have the luxury of conducting a carefully controlled experiment as the weeks of the

    genetics course progressed. Rather, they used amyriad of new strategies when they took notes and

    studied for Exam 2 and the nal exam. Susannah explained her end-of-the-course study strategy

    modication. I wrote out more information on study cards; she also said:

    And I wrote out the information on them differentmore like I thought it would be on the

    test. I read a lot more from the [text] book to clear up problems. I read after every lecture

    now. I took notes from the book and made study cards for that, too. I studied for the

    [second] test through the week before. The day before it, I studied for 7 hours. I didnt

    know if any of this would work, but I knew I had to do something. I gured that was all I

    could do. (AS; 4; 1522)

    Susannah and many other participants tried to develop new strategies that would enable them

    to succeed in the course. However, like an investigator who has run an experiment without a


  • control, theywere left with little data-based feedback at the end of the semester.When the genetics

    course was over, how would they know which of the many changes that they had implemented

    brought them success? Therefore, many left the course knowing that they may have done

    something to improve their note-taking, but could not articulate specic details.

    In addition, many of the participants declared that they would probably not continue to

    implement their newly developed strategies in their next course. I wouldnt continue if I didnt

    have to because this is a lot of work, one participant acknowledged; This took so much of my

    time from my other courses, that if I didnt have to go back and take these detailed notes from the

    text, I wouldnt (JR; 5; 7778).

    Only one participant could look back on the strategies she had implemented in the genetics

    course and view them in a truly positive light: I thought this course was a stepping stone to the

    courses that Ill have later, she stated; This denitely is one of themost challenging courses that

    Ive had so far. Im denitely going to take what Ive learned from this course to other courses

    (SA; 5; 59).

    A New View of the Undergraduate Note-Taker

    Aweaving together of the CSTN (VanMeter et al., 1994) and the framework of self-regulated

    learning (Schunk, 2005; Zimmerman, 1989, 1998) produces a new view of the undergraduate

    note-taker. The successful application of the CSTN is epitomized by self-regulated note-takers

    (SRNs) who competently integrate goal-setting and strategic planning in the forethought stage of

    an academic course. Their goals are well dened and their strategies are specic. Once the

    semester begins, the performance of SRNs demonstrates an interaction between self-observation

    and self-controlthey keep track of how successfully they implement particular strategies. SRNs

    do not resign (Van Meter et al., 1994, p. 334) in response to lower-than-expected performance

    on exams, but evaluate course notes in the light of course tests and make necessary adjustments in

    note-taking strategies to improve performance on later tests. They have an extensive array of

    sophisticated note-taking strategies and a set of beliefs of which they are metacognitively aware

    and about which they can speak articulately. SRNs are sensitive to the range of their prior

    knowledge, and can easily detect where a concept or a skill ts into the existing pattern of their

    understanding. SRNs are proactive, often identifying a problem in its incipient forman Aha!

    experienceand solving it before it gets out of control. At the end of the course, SRNs engage in

    self-reection. They evaluate their performance and assign causal signicance to the results; they

    respond with satisfaction or dissatisfaction to their performance and decidewhether to change the

    performance in the future. SRNs can take the experience gained fromone course and apply it when

    they are challenged by another course in the future.

    Participants in this present study were, for the most part, not SRNs. Rather, they were typical

    note-takersTNsrepresentative of a large group of undergraduates who populate our science

    classrooms. Like their SRN counterparts, they also had the forethought to make plans prior to

    beginning the genetics course. Their goals, however, tended to be genericget a Band their

    intended strategies were untargetedstudy real hard. Once the genetics course began, TNs

    self-control was limited because of the narrow array of strategies at their disposal. In addition,

    their self-observation was limited, keeping them from monitoring their performance adequately.

    TNs adjusted their note-taking after less-than-desirable performances in Exam 1, but in a

    nontargeted manner. TNs, like the SRNs, did not resign, or quit. Many, however, seemed to

    discontinue or diminish their practice of new strategies toward the end of the semester, resigning

    themselves to less than optimistic results in the course. Their arsenal of strategies appeared to be

    limited and their metacognitive awareness of beliefs seemed to be underdeveloped. TNs were


  • aware of their prior knowledge, but frequently recognized the insignicant piece of information

    and not the larger picture. They seemed to be reactive. A problem occurredan Oh, no!

    experienceand by the time they solved it, it was too late. As a consequence, for the majority of

    TNs, the development of new note-taking strategies was not an a priori plan of change. I didnt

    know if [the new strategies] would work, one participant admitted, but I knew I had to do

    something (SA; 4; 9). But, which of the changes in note-taking ultimately contributed to the

    greatest portion of her success? Which strategies would be worthwhile to continue in a future

    course, and which should probably be abandoned? Limited self-monitoring during the semester

    apparently contributed to limited self-reection upon the semesters close.

    Implications for Teaching, Advising, and Research

    Several implications for teaching and advising can be drawn from the present study. First,

    students in Van Meter et al.s (1994) study, corroborated by participants in the present study,

    describe the key role played by prior knowledge in their success in taking good notes in a course.

    Therefore, an informal assessment of prior knowledge (e.g., as suggested by Angelo & Cross,

    1993) might assist students at the outset of a new course or a new topic within a course. Students

    might also benet from exercises that encourage them to continue the assessment throughout the

    semester. Second, academic advisors may greatly assist their advisees by more overt involvement

    in helping them set and assess their goals. These goals should be specic and assessable, taking not

    the form I will write better notes, but I will supplement my class notes with extra diagrams

    from each days genetics lecture. These goals should also be aimed toward incremental

    improvement, not I will get an A on the next exam instead of a D, but I will score at least a 75

    on the next quiz instead of a 50. Third, because undergraduate students may not possess the full

    arsenal of strategies ascribed to them by the literature, they may benet from overt efforts by

    faculty to introduce them to strategies that are specically related to particular topics or to discuss

    possible options. Hofer et al. (1994) suggested that undergraduatesmay particularly need this type

    of intervention in a course out of their major. This study suggests that they may also be aided by

    strategy development when theymove to upper-level courses in their ownmajor. Fourth, early in a

    course, well before the rst exam, students may need opportunities to assess their original class

    notes for accuracy, completeness, and organization, and to assess the quality of the postclass

    processingof their notes. These opportunities could beprovided invariousways, using, for example,

    short and simple classroom assessment techniques (e.g., Angelo & Cross, 1993). Students could be

    given a brief amount of time to compare notes on a particularly complex lecture topic to see how

    colleagues processed their notes. In general, studentsmight prot from the ongoing incorporation of

    metacognitive conversation with both their academic advisors and college professors.

    The present study also has implications for research both in the design of future note-taking

    studies and in possible research questions. The students in VanMeter et al.s (1994) study claimed

    that the characteristics of accuracy, completeness, and organization were inherent to their notes;

    theydescribed how they incorporated their textbook into studyingwith their course notes; and they

    explained how they reconstructed their notes with sophisticated strategies. All of these practices

    imply a thoughtful application of the CSTN. Analyses by Van Meter and others, however, were

    limited to participants comments about their note-taking strategies. In contrast, the present study

    had the advantage of comparing what participants said they did to the evidence provided by their

    notes. This comparison suggested that the participants, and possibly students in general, may not

    consistently apply the CSTN in their courses. Therefore, a strong recommendation to researchers

    planning future studies of student note-taking is to include not only interviews, but a thorough

    examination of students notes and course materials.


  • Several research questions are suggested by this present study. First, did the differences

    between talking the talk about note-taking theory and walking the walk occur because the

    genetics course was a difcult course? Were the differences a result of the participants in the

    current study being all women? To resolve this issue, similar studies should be conducted in

    courses that students do not perceive as difcult, and in courses of varying levels of difculty with

    enrollment of both male and female students. Second, how do students metacognitively explain

    their changes in note-taking strategy? To answer this question, students should be involved in

    longitudinal studies that engage them in ongoing metacognitive discussions. The present study

    strongly suggests that the typical student would not have sufciently developed self-regulatory

    skills to answer the question unassisted. Third, how do students view their note-taking? Is it a

    mechanistic processsimilar to the role of a court stenographer? Or is it a more thoughtful

    processsimilar to the role of a translator, turning the words from the language of the professor

    into the students own words? To begin to answer this question, studies modeled on Pressley and

    Aferbachs (1995) read-aloud protocol may help researchers to get inside the thought

    processes of undergraduatesa return to the DiVesta and Gray (1972, 1973) process/product

    consideration of note-taking, but from the students point of view.

    Some professors might object to the preceding pedagogical suggestions on the grounds that

    they contradict the very nature of students learning being self-regulated. Furthermore, if the

    typical undergraduatewere an ideal self-regulated student, these faculty-based strategies probably

    would not be necessary. This study, however, strongly suggests that the average undergraduate

    does not have themetacognitive skills so readily available to the ideal self-regulated student. If this

    is the case, there is a need for faculty to design courses that help students learn how to learn as well

    as to learn the actual content. Self-regulated learning is not learned all at once any more than the

    subject matter whose acquisition it fosters is learned all at once. Studentsand teachersmust

    come to understand that self-regulation is a journey, not a destination.


    1In this and subsequent quotations, the initials identify the speaker, the rst numeral identies the

    interview, and the following numeral sequence identies a particular statement within that interview.2Not all 23 participants submitted their notebooks after each lecture; therefore, the total number of sets

    of original notes analyzed for each lecture period varied from day to day.


    Questions for Interview 1

    When in school did you rst begin to take notes?

    How has your note-taking style changed over the years?

    How do your notes change from course to course?

    What is a good set of notes for you? A bad set?

    What is the purpose of taking notes?

    When do you take notes in class? How do you know whats important to take down? What is

    the structure of your notes?

    Do you always take notes? When do you not take notes?

    What do you do with things in your notes that you dont understand?

    Do you paraphrase when you take notes or do you write down information word for word?

    Do your notes change over the semester?


  • Do you take notes even when you are very familiar with the information being presented?

    How does note-taking affect your ability to think about information during class?

    How does class size affect your note-taking?

    What conditions make it easier for you to take notes? Harder?

    How do you use your notes when you study?

    Do you study with others? Under what conditions?

    Do you understand other peoples notes? Do you ever borrow other peoples notes?

    Questions for Interview 2

    How would you evaluate your success in the genetics course so far?

    What do you base that on?

    What is your goal in the genetics course now?

    What are you doing to reach that goal?

    What has been the most helpful thing youve done so far in studying genetics?

    How do you know?

    Has there been any part of the course so far that has beenmore difcult for you to understand?

    What has made it more difcult?

    Have you done anything different to try to understand it?

    How do you like the genetics course so far?

    Do you feel comfortable in class?

    Have you done anything to change your note-taking in the class?

    What do you think happens when you study?

    Is it possible for a person to become smarter, or does a person always remain at the same

    degree of being smart?

    Questions for Interview 3

    How would you evaluate your success in the genetics course so far?

    What do you base that on?

    What is your goal in the genetics course now?

    What are you doing to reach that goal?

    What has been the most helpful thing youve done so far in studying genetics?

    How do you know?

    Has there been any part of the course so far that has beenmore difcult for you to understand?

    What has made it more difcult?

    Have you done anything different to try to understand it?

    How do you like genetics so far?

    Do you feel comfortable in class?

    Have you done anything to change your note-taking in the class?

    When you study, do you have a specic goal in mind?

    When you study, how do you know that you know?

    What keeps you going when youre taking a course that is very challenging for you?

    Questions for Interview 4

    How would you evaluate your success in the genetics course so far?

    What do you base that on?

    What is your goal in the genetics course now?


  • What are you doing to reach that goal?

    What has been the most helpful thing youve done so far in studying genetics?

    How do you know?

    Has there been any party of the course so far that has been more difcult for you to


    What has made it more difcult?

    Have you done anything different to try to understand it?

    How do you like genetics so far?

    Do you feel comfortable in class?

    Have you done anything to change your note-taking in the class?

    Are you preparing to study for the second test any differently than you did for the rst one?

    How did you know to make those changes?

    What three words would you use to describe yourself in the genetics course at this point?

    Do you have any plans about preparing for the nal exam?

    When you plant to begin to study?

    Questions for Interview 5

    How do you think you did on the nal exam?

    What do you base that on?

    How did you prepare for the nal exam?

    When did you begin?

    What did you do?

    What content did you focus on?

    What was the hardest part of the course for you to learn?

    What made it difcult?

    What did you do to learn it?

    Did you use the notes supplied by Dr. Bradshaw?

    Where they of any help to you?

    How helpful was the textbook in your studying?

    How did you use the text? Did you buy it used or new?

    Are all the markings in it yours?

    Do you plan to keep it?

    Do you usually keep your textbooks?

    Did you make any changes in your note-taking style during the course?

    What? Why? When?

    Do you think you might continue to use any of those different ways in the future?

    Did you make any changes in your studying strategies during the course?

    What? Why? When?

    Do you think you might continue to use any of those strategies in the future?

    What were the most helpful?

    How do you think you did in genetics as a course?

    What do you base that on?

    Did you learn anything about yourself as a student as a result of taking this course?

    How did you learn that lesson?

    What three works would you use to describe yourself at this point?

    Has participating in this study kept you back in any way from doing as well in the course as

    you might have done otherwise?


  • What kind of educational background do adults in your family have?

    Are you a resident or a commuter?

    Did you work during the semester? On or off campus? How many hours a week?

    Do you have any other major responsibilities that take up your time during the week?

    The authors thank Steven Cain for his contribution. The author also thank the three

    anonymous reviewers for their reactions and suggestions.


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