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I see people like Terry Tao and others take extensive notes. But is this really necessary? When I do this I feel like I am rewriting a textbook.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Jonas Meyer, Claude Leibovici, John Ma, Yiorgos S. Smyrlis, user26857 Apr 25 '15 at 8:34

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Should it not be CW? – Asaf Karagila Nov 7 '10 at 6:29
Honestly,I don't think this makes a question... – Mariano Suárez-Alvarez Jul 7 '11 at 23:34
How about "Is there any point in taking extensive notes?" – Emre Jul 7 '11 at 23:50
What a great edit, Jack. – The Chaz 2.0 Nov 1 '11 at 4:11
The user who posted this question is a notorious spammer of math.SE and MO (hence the vaporization of his account soon after posting). This question was never intended honestly, and I'd have deleted it too if some nice answers hadn't already been posted. – Zev Chonoles Nov 1 '11 at 4:26

About notes and rewriting: if the topic is important and non-trivial, it is all too easy to delude oneself, optimistically, into believing that one grasps all the points... if one is at all passive. To avoid this (as well as to have a perhaps more convenient personal archive), I think there is no substitute for an intensely (self-) critical rewrite.

Yes, this is "expensive" in time and effort, so should NOT be allocated to trivial matters, to "exercises", or to things one doesn't care much about.

Personally, if I've not rewritten something, I don't feel I understand it, except perhaps distantly, passively, as with gossip or hearsay. By the end, the ideal is to perceive the thing that cost effort as being, in fact, as trivial as possible, once one has adjusted one's viewpoint. It is important to remind oneself that this is not an indicator of wasted time or of foolishness, but of success in rewriting/rethinking. Then the significance of things that don't quite become trivial is vastly clearer.

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excellent advice. I'm up-voting this answer! – Mike Jones Jul 30 '11 at 9:51
GREAT answer and I agree wholeheartedly with most of it. – Mathemagician1234 Sep 9 '11 at 3:44

Everyone learns a bit differently.

Some people learn better by listening; others by writing. I find that the best way for me to understand someone else's proof is to write it out in careful detail, rather than simply reading it. For me, taking notes is a way to help me keep up with the material while digesting and internalising it.

Other people don't learn that way. George Bergman (my advisor), for example, throughly dislikes lecturing (in the traditional way) because he says that it is a method for transferring information from the lecturer's notes to the student's notebook without passing through the brain of either (an opinion he has held since he took his first graduate course; so clearly he derived little benefit from taking notes the way you describe).

If all you are doing is writing and this process does not help you think about what you are writing, then it is probably not in your best interest to write notes. Better to keep the pad for any sudden ideas or insights you might want to come back later, and trust the textbook to provide the information you are interested in.

So... whether it is "necessary" is not an absolute, but rather a function of your own personal preference. In short: "whatever floats your boat".

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I seem to learn best by talking out loud. But I cant do that in the library. Any ideas of how to modify this? – Ross Nov 7 '10 at 3:44
I'd have said "find your groove", but "whatever floats your boat" works too. :D – J. M. Nov 7 '10 at 3:44
@Ross: Borrow books from the library, take them to your room, and then you can talk out loud. – J. M. Nov 7 '10 at 3:45
@Ross: I do that when I'm trying to work out a problem; I've discovered I can do it by thinking through without actually vocalizing (though I do seem to need to gesticulate a lot in any case; gets me some stares when I do it while walking around, but not as many as talking out loud). The library, though, that's probably not a place to do either. – Arturo Magidin Nov 7 '10 at 3:47
@TheChaz: I'll let him describe it instead: see pages 5, 6, and 7 in the introduction to his lecture notes on General Algebra. I never saw him actually attempt something along these lines for the large (150+ students) Calculus courses that were taught at Berkeley, but I do know he did in fact attempt to have such questions, and that he had some varying degrees of success with it (don't know what the students felt, though). – Arturo Magidin Nov 1 '11 at 4:21

When I go to a lecture I try to discern the general idea and condense the talk into a small summary -- sometimes half a page, sometimes just a couple of lines. Sometimes I get technical details out of a talk, sometimes it's more of a big picture. Sometimes I miss the point. Sometimes I latch onto an idea I don't understand and spend the entire talk trying to work that out, or I try to prove the speaker wrong. But as Arturo mentions, different people have different styles.

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