When making notes I try not to include absolutely everything, this is something I’ve started doing more and more since starting medical school. The main reason is because if my notes are insanely long I know I simply won’t be able to learn everything and it kind of makes the whole idea of having “summary notes” a bit pointless. I also find that if my notes are brief, when I look through them it encourages me to think about other more detailed information I would have initially read when making those notes – thus encouraging a little bit of an active thinking process when reading the notes and helping to consolidate what I’ve learnt.
Now how to decide what’s relevant? The main thing I’ve used to help me decide so far is based on the level of depth that my lectures and resources my university has provided go in to. If they completely disregard a certain area that’s my clue that it’s not so important and I don’t actually need to know it. I also try and think of the end goal which for me right now is of course a) to pass my exams and b) to become a competent foundation doctor at the end of my 5 years. These 2 things help me to again decide what’s not as important and can be left out of my notes.
For example, something that I can remember actively not including in my notes is the names of the molecules in each step of the Krebs cycle – my main reasons for that I thought understanding the concept of respiration was enough and going into significant detail about the names of these molecules isn’t necessarily going to clinically make me a better doctor. Additionally, in our lectures on respiration, they weren’t included – another clue to me that it’s not the most vital piece of information for me. I do think considering everything in the context of what knowledge will actually help you when practising medicine is a great help when deciding what to include in notes and what not to.
Generally in my notes I include concepts/facts I just need to memorise. I try not to include long-winded explanations. If anything requires an explanation, I’ll understand it then summarise it down to the facts. I feel like when you understand something properly it kind of embeds in to your brain and it becomes “prior knowledge”. I don’t include prior knowledge in my notes. So…since starting 3rd year I haven’t made any notes on anatomy, physiology or pathophysiology because that’s something I already covered in years 1 and 2 and hence I don’t need to extend my current notes by including prior knowledge.
So in summary I don’t include anything that:
- Cannot be examined AND will not improve my practise of medicine in the future
- Concepts which haven’t been deemed as important by my medical school
- Any long explanations.
- Prior knowledge.