Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Outlining: a proper method of note-taking......?

By about 1958, Dick and Jane are in their last years of primary school. Note-taking continued to consist primarily of copying whatever was on the teacher’s chalkboard, and study techniques using this information remained pretty rudimentary. However, sometime around late primary school, students were exposed to the “proper” methodology of note-taking for studying a subject: outlining. This wonderful new discovery was to prepare them for high school and beyond.

Outlining was applied to every subject in secondary school and university: obviously it was “the” method—it was universally applied and apparently still is. But in school in the '50s and '60s, it had the uncanny ability to reduce a voluminous amount of text in paragraph format to, well, a voluminous amount of script text, consisting of a series of indented statements. Sure, large amounts of superfluous text, whole paragraphs sometimes, could be excised from reading material; but in general, one was left with a series of statements, each missing perhaps a few modifiers, articles, pronouns, but essentially the original sentences remained intact.

Unfortunately, not all students developed good script writing techniques; trying to study from poorly-scripted outline notes was difficult and boring.

By the end of a semester or year, students had 32-page booklets, volumes 1-xx, on each subject jammed with outlined notes. From high school on in that era, students were required to purchase, at the beginning of each year, not only their own writing materials, but their textbooks as well. Dick and Jane found that the standard notebook for high school was 8.5” x 11”, so more information could be stored on a page. And since their mechanical writing skills now produced more compact and smaller script, they could purchase the narrow-ruled booklets, thereby increasing the amount of information that could be stored on a page by about 50%. What a bargain!

Sometime in high school, many students found that the notebooks were too restricting and opted to use loose-leaved notepaper. For some reason, this decision also freed the student from the cram-filled pages habit and more free-flowing note-taking took place.

Teachers in high school didn’t usually provide complete notes for students. Some outlines might have been handed out or provided on the blackboard, but the majority of notes were expected to be created by the students themselves. Now that Dick and Jane have had a few years of learning how it is done, outlining on their own should be easy. And it was sort of. It was amazing how quickly they could fill up pages and pages of notepaper by copying out of textbooks or transcribing what the teacher may have written on the chalkboard.

And then began the drudgery of final review of all this material before exams.

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