New Student Tip #9: The Why of Note-Taking

Note-taking begins with a big question: ”Why?”

Why take notes in lectures?

It may seem an easy question with an obvious answer but once you ask it, you’ll realize that there are a few possible answers and that your answer will determine how you take notes. Lets ask three students why they take notes:

Student 1: Because the teacher is teaching it.

Some vainly try to write down everything a teacher says. While erring on writing too much is better than writing too little, try to acquire the valuable skill of knowing what to write down and what to simply listen to. That will give you time to think about what’s being taught rather than just being a typist. It will also save you from RSI.

Student 2: To pass an exam

If exam success is why you are taking notes, then you’ll only want to take notes on lectures and parts of lectures that are examinable. You will try to find out from the syllabus or the teacher what will be in the exam and then take notes only when exam content is being taught. At other times you will probably switch off.

Student 3: To expand my knowledge

If this is your motive then you will take far more notes than student #2 but less than student #1. You realize that you are paying for an education, not just exam results, and therefore you will gather as much valuable information as you can in as efficient a way as possible. This student also recognizes that taking notes rather than just reading handouts and course books is one of the best ways to cement knowledge in the memory.

Obviously I hope you will be student #3, but let me add a few more motives to make this choice than just getting value for money or preparing for your career.

Motive 1: Respect for the teacher

It is unquestionably one of the most demoralizing aspects of teaching for a lecturer to pour 10-20 hours into preparing a lecture only to see a couple of students writing or typing while the rest either slouch in their chairs or text and chat online. He or she may not be the best teacher in the world but they are usually trying their very best and it’s basic human decency to show you value them and their work by actually typing at least some of what they say.

Motive 2: Acknowledge your inexperience 

Most teachers don’t teach just to bore you or to occupy their time. They actually believe what they are teaching is important and useful, even vital. It may not seem relevant or helpful to you, but then teachers have been around quite a bit longer than most students and have learned through experience what’s going to help you down the road. I’ve lost count of the number of tiimes I’ve been emailed by students a few years later to ask for help with something that they did not pay attention to when in class.

Motive 3: Learn how to teach

So, the content is not exactly scintillating, but what about the teacher’s teaching style? Is it something you can learn from – to copy or avoid? No matter what career we choose, we will all eventually teach someone something; most likely in a group setting too. Learn from the teacher’s good example and also his or her mistakes.

Motive 4: Strengthen self-discipline

Although teachers are increasingly banning laptops or wireless internet service from their classes, the temptation to check the Internet is still there for most students, even if only on their cell phones. But this is where good and bad habits are learned. If you get into the bad habit of continually checking social media or doing email when someone else is talking, you’ll carry that into other relationships too, and into your later career, which will damage your relationships and eventually your career prospects. Lectures, especially boring ones, are good training grounds for developing valuable listening skills especially for the innumerable boring meetings you’ll have to attend throughout your life.

That’s the Why? Next the How?

Other Resources

New Student Tip #1: Dropbox

New Student Tip #2: Wunderlist

New Student Tip #3: Evernote

New Student Tip #4: Diigo

New Student Tip #5: Lastpass

New Student Tip #6: Calendar

New Student Tip #7: Feedly

New Student Tip #8: Covenant Eyes

Thriving at College by Alex Chediak (for students).

Preparing Your Teens For College by Alex Chediak (for parents of students)

Top 10 Books for Students

New Student Tip #8: Covenant Eyes

Seven tips and you haven’t had to pay a cent yet!

Sorry to spoil your student paradise, but you’ll have to pay for this one. However, it’s a small price to pay considering the potential cost if you don’t.

The greatest danger for most students today is the Internet. Yes, it’s brought a lot of benefits and pluses into our lives as we’ve seen in the previous seven tips. But there are also downsides, and one of them is Internet pornography.

Of course pornography has always been a temptation, but what’s changed with the Internet is:

  • It’s so much easier to access, just a click of a finger.
  • It’s so much easier to view in total privacy without anyone finding out.
  • It’s so much cheaper, with so much available for “free.”
  • It’s so much worse, with the most vile forms of porn side-by-side with “entry-level” porn.
  • It’s looking for you, with many ways to trick you into seeing it.

Because of the above, many more people have accessed porn through curiosity, by accident, or by being targeted with it, resulting in many more people and a much wider range of people becoming addicted.

“But what’s the big deal?” many ask. “Where’s the harm in a little bit of porn?” Here’s the big deal; here’s the harm.

1. It’s a sin. According to Jesus, it is breaking the seventh commandment (Matt. 5:27-30).

2. It could send you to hell. See Jesus again (Matt. 5:27-30).

3. It’s hating your neighbor. If people didn’t watch it, people wouldn’t make it. If you view it, you are helping to create it. You are creating temptation danger for others, but also destroying the lives of those involved in making it, often against their wills.

4. It weakens the will: If you succumb to this, you will succumb to other sins too.

5. It weakens spirituality: Due to guilt, porn users cannot expect communion with God, delight in prayer, enjoyment in the Word, or spiritual growth.

6. It destroys usefulness: Few porn users are zealous or sacrificial in Christ’s service. Like other addictions is is a costly distraction that will adversely impact every area of your life, including your career.

7. It perverts your view of women/men: You will find it virtually impossible to look at any woman/man without lustful thoughts.

8. It will spoil sex: If you are an unmarried porn user, you are already undermining your future marriage by storing up perverse images and practices that will soil and spoil the most intimate moments.

9. It may end your marriage: 50% of Christian divorces cite porn use as the reason. “Gutted!” is the word heard most from broken and betrayed wives. “Gutted!” Think about that.

10. It will never leave you: Porn is sticky. Unlike other experiences it is not easily forgotten. Many ex-porn users will tell you that it’s virtually impossible to eradicate what they have viewed from their memories.

Given the availability, accessibility, danger, and wrongness of porn, we need help to stop it reaching us and to stop us reaching it. That’s where Covenant Eyes comes in. It’s a Christian company whose service is built upon Job 31:1 “I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman?”

Covenant Eyes

Once Covenant Eyes is installed on all computers and mobile devices, you will benefit from the following services:

Internet Accountability: Covenant Eyes monitors the websites visited, the search terms used, and the YouTube videos watched, and lists them in an easy-to-read report for each user name. This is then sent to your chosen Accountability partner to start a conversation about healthy online habits.

Internet Filtering: This blocks inappropriate web content based on age-appropriateness. You can even create custom block and allow lists, or block the Internet completely at certain times of day.

This costs $9.99 per month for individual users or $13.99 for a family account which lets you have as many user accounts as you want. Yes, $9.99 per month is quite hefty for a student, but on the other hand, think of the cost if you do fall into temptation and become a porn addict. Maybe you can persuade you parents to take out a family account to cover you and your siblings. Personally, I believe it’s an essential part of parenting to cover each family member with a service like this.

And remember this is not just about porn – there are  many other Internet dangers we need protection from. Also, positively, this is about building good Internet habits and regulating time spent online in a disciplined accountable way.

Maybe you don’t want Dad or Mom to see your Internet choices. That itself may be a warning sign. However, you can choose other people to be your accountability partner – a mature friend or an elder in your church maybe. My wife is mine and I am hers.

For more detailed help, see The Porn-Free Family Plan from Tim Challies or my Top 10 Books on Fighting Porn, where you will find much Gospel hope if you are already ensnared.

Here’s the Covenant Eyes promo video and the sign-up.

Other Resources

New Student Tip #1: Dropbox

New Student Tip #2: Wunderlist

New Student Tip #3: Evernote

New Student Tip #4: Diigo

New Student Tip #5: Lastpass

New Student Tip #6: Calendar

New Student Tip #7: Feedly

Thriving at College by Alex Chediak (for students)

Preparing Your Teens For College by Alex Chediak (for parents of students)

Top 10 Books for Students

Check out

Book Deals

Knowing Scripture by R. C. Sproul ($2.99)

Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible by Vern S. Poythress ($0.99)

Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards’s Vision of Living in Between by Stephen J. Nichols ($0.99)

Welcome to a Reformed Church  by Daniel Hyde (Free for the month of September)

The Money Answer Book: Quick Answers to Everyday Financial Questions by Dave Ramsey ($2.99)

Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers ($1.99)

Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans by T. R. Fehrenbach ($1.99)

Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone by Martin Dugard ($3.99)

On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery by Robert M. Poole ($1.99)

The Grammar Devotional: Daily Tips for Successful Writing from Grammar Girl by Mignon Fogarty ($3.99)

Top Blogs

10 Wise Leadership Lessons I’ll Never Forget

A Former AP Correspondent Explains How and Why His Colleagues Get Israel So Wrong – Tablet Magazine

7 Factors that Contribute to the Impact of Depression-Anxiety | Brad Hambrick

Why I Love to Read Non-Christian Books | Challies Dot Com

Education Is a Privilege, Not a Burden | Desiring God

The 3 Biggest Mental Battles Every Blogger Faces

Welcome Back, My Old Friend | Challies Dot Com

What Would It Have Been Like to Attend a Puritan Worship Service? | TGC

7 Characteristics of Spiritually Beneficial Friendships

The Importance of Fasting

Who Is Saying Medicine is Unimportant? | ACBC

Mental Illness and the Christian: Scripture and Science | The Exchange | A Blog by Ed Stetzer

The Rise of Biblical Counseling – Pacific Standard: The Science of Society

It’s Time to Listen: “We Don’t All Look Alike,” a guest post by Carl Ellis, Jr. | The Exchange | A Blog by Ed Stetzer

God Loves My Boring, Unimportant Neighborhood | TGC | The Gospel Coalition

Life with Cancer: One Year Later by Keith Mathison | Ligonier Ministries Blog


 Two Weeks Under the Sea

Seven-Week Old Boy Has Hearing Aids for the First Time

These Disabled Rock Climbers are Way, Way Stronger Than You

Bountiful Businessman Receives Unbelievable Gift from Stranger

New Student Tip #7: Feedly

Blogs and websites have largely taken over from newspapers and magazines as sources of news, opinion, and articles on current issues. As a student who wants to learn constantly, pray knowledgeably, and witness effectively you will want to be reading a wide selection of the best blogs and websites.

Time Waster?
But how do you do this? Do you have to visit multiple sites every day? That’s a tiresome time-waster that you won’t keep up for long.

Instead, you want to use a Blog/Website Reader like Feedly which you can access via your browser or via an App on your phone or Apple Mac. Once you’ve signed up for this free service, you can immediately and easily start subscribing to blogs and websites so that any fresh content is sent automatically into Feedly for you to read, bookmark, or share via Social Media. You simply enter the name of the blog or website in the Feedly search bar and from the search results you choose what to  subscribe to.

I subscribe to over a hundred blogs and websites, which would take me a couple of hours to get round every day to check for new articles. But using Feedly, I can spend about 20 minutes skimming over the headlines and article summaries and pick the ones I want to read, bookmark, or share.

Where do I start?
That still leaves you with the big question of which blogs, etc. Feedly offers you a number of categories to browse for the best blogs in various subject areas. But to help you get started, I’ve attached a screenshot below of my Feedly subscriptions to give you some suggestions to start with. This also demonstrates the value of another feature on Feedly – the ability to organize your subscriptions into categories so that you can choose what to read based on the time you have available or what you are looking for. I have four categories:

  • Christian Blogs (1): These are my first division blogs, the ones I read just about every weekday.
  • Christian Blogs (2): These are my second division blogs, which I still try to read every day, but if I’m pushed for time I’ll leave them for another day.
  • Technology: Blogs that help me keep abreast of technology, social media trends, etc. I read these maybe once or twice a week.
  • Miscellaneous: A collection of blogs on writing, education, politics, weather, etc. Again, a once or twice a week read.

For the sake of space and usefulness to you, I’ve only included the first two categories in the screenshot. Why not pick 10-20 of them from from column 1 (Christian Blogs 1) to get started and then gradually add more if you are finding you can do this in a time-efficient manner. While you need to exercise discernment in all your reading, there are some blogs in the second column (Christian Blogs 2) that need to be read with greater discernment.

Blogs 1Blogs 2

Other Resources

New Student Tip #1: Dropbox

New Student Tip #2: Wunderlist

New Student Tip #3: Evernote

New Student Tip #4: Diigo

New Student Tip #5: Lastpass

New Student Tip #6: Calendar

Thriving at College by Alex Chediak (for students)

Preparing Your Teens For College by Alex Chediak (for parents of students)

Top 10 Books for Students

Did Al Mohler Just Throw Happiness Overboard?

Victoria Osteen spoke and the world shook. Tremors have been felt across the nation in TV studios, talk radio programs, Bill Cosby’s living room and Al Mohler’s breakfast table. And it’s that upturned bowl of cornflakes that I’d like to pause and examine for a moment because Dr. Mohler has now written a response to Osteen’s comments that I do not entirely agree with.

What Victoria Osteen Got Right
Did I just write that? Yes, because although she got a lot wrong, she said some right and important things too. Here’s what she said:

I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God–I mean, that’s one way to look at it–we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy. . . . That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. . . .

So, I want you to know this morning — Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. . . . When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?

So what’s wrong and what’s right about this?

She was wrong in saying that when we obey or worship God “we are not doing it for God.” That’s so obviously unbiblical and ridiculously false. If she had inserted one extra word and said “we are not doing it only for God,” I doubt any of us would be thinking and writing about her. (And in her defense, she did go on to slightly qualify “we’re not doing it for God” by saying “I mean, that’s one way to look at it.”)

She was also wrong in her prioritizing of human happiness. She believes that you come to church worship for your own happiness first of all, which subsequently makes God happy. No, no, no. We come to church to glorify God, to make Him happy, as it were, which subsequently makes us happy.

But she was right in two important points. First, she was right in that obedience and worship do benefit and bless us. They do make us happy and they were meant to. Just this morning I was reading Psalm 135v5 which says:

Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good;
Sing praises to His name, for it is pleasant.

Charles Spurgeon comments on the second line of this verse:

Sing praises unto his name, for it is pleasant. The adjective may apply to the singing and to the name—they are both pleasant. The vocal expression of praise by sacred song is one of our greatest delights. We were created for this purpose, and hence it is a joy to us. It is a charming duty to praise the lovely name of our God. All pleasure is to be found in the joyful worship of Jehovah; all joys are in his sacred name as perfumes lie slumbering in a garden of flowers. The mind expands, the soul is lifted up, the heart warms, the whole being is filled with delight when we are engaged in singing the high praises of our Father, Redeemer, Comforter. When in any occupation goodness and pleasure unite, we do well to follow it up without stint: yet it is to be feared that few of us sing to the Lord at all in proportion as we talk to men.

Second, she was right to say that God wants us to be happy and that God is happy when we are happy, “that’s the thing that gives him greatest joy.”

I’m going to come back to this second point shortly, because a lot of the Reformers and Puritans actually agree with Victoria Osteen here and were not as reluctant as we often are to use the word “happy” or “happiness” to describe God or the Christian’s experience.

What Al Mohler Got Wrong
Did I just write that?

Yes, because although 90% of his article hit the target, he overshot the mark in a couple of important areas.

First, the title: “Mere happiness cannot bear the weight of the Gospel.” I get the point he’s trying to make but happiness per se is no trifling triviality. The adjective “mere” does not belong in the same company as “happiness.” It’s like saying “mere Everest” or the “mere Atlantic.” There’s nothing “mere” about either of these and there’s nothing “mere” about happiness.

Together with four research assistants I’ve spent the summer researching what the Reformed tradition has said about happiness – beginning with Calvin and Luther, through the Puritans, up to the Princeton era of Charles Hodge and Archibald Alexander.

It’s amazing how much they spoke and wrote about happiness (I’ve got over a thousand references), how they prioritized happiness for God and us, and how they gave many theological and practical helps to happiness. If they’d seen Dr. Mohler’s headline, they would have choked on their oatmeal and exploded, “Mere happiness? Mere happiness? Happiness is not “mere.” It’s massive and it’s massive to God.”

Many of them, like Victoria Osteen, also believed that God is happy, made us to be happy, and is most happy when we are happy. Sure, they wouldn’t have recognized the Osteen version of happiness, but neither would they have recognized the Mohler diminishing of happiness.

Second, they also would take issue with Dr. Mohler’s attempt to distinguish between happiness and joy. He wrote:

The divine-human relationship is just turned upside down, and God’s greatest desire is said to be our happiness. But what is happiness? It is a word that cannot bear much weight. As writers from C. S. Lewis to the Apostle Paul have made clear, happiness is no substitute for joy. Happiness, in the smiling version assured in the Age of Osteen doesn’t last, cannot satisfy, and often is not even real.

In response, how about this quote from Archibald Alexander that says God is a happiness promoter:

God is good. His goodness is manifest in every work of his wisdom, for he has so continued and arranged all things in the best manner, to promote the happiness of his creatures, according to their nature and capacity.

Or this from Jeremiah Burroughs where he “channels” Victoria Osteen in the last line:

God is the only source of real happiness. He does not need anything or anyone to make him happy: even before he made the world, the three persons of the Trinity were completely happy with each other. What God does for Christians is to make them as happy as he is.

Or what about this brief selection from the ultra-dour John Calvin:

If it is the very summit of happiness to enjoy the presence of God, is it not miserable to lack it?

It is, indeed…our only true happiness, to be received into God’s favor, so that we may be really united to him in Christ.

But the Spirit of God promises a happy life to none except to the meek, and those who endure evils; and we cannot be happy except God prospers our ways; and it is the good and the benevolent, and not the cruel and inhuman, that he will favor.

The beginning of our happiness is when God receives us into favor; so the more he confirms his love in our hearts, the richer blessing he confers on us, so that we become happy and prosperous in all things.

God is said to bless us, when he crowns our undertakings with success, and, in the exercise of his goodness, bestows upon us happiness and prosperity; and the reason is, that our enjoyments depend entirely upon his pleasure.

I could go on and on (and one day I will), but for further proof of the Reformed Traditions’ positive focus on happiness let me direct you to the stunningly beautiful first chapter of Dane Ortlund’s new book Jonathan Edwards on the Christian Life.

Edwards speaks of divine beauty not only in terms of holiness but also in terms of happiness. I call this striking because our instinct even as believers is to set holiness and happiness over against one another. For Edwards, it is both or neither. The two rise and fall together.

There’s one sermon in which Edwards said: “It is a thing truly happifying to the soul of men to see God.” And later on he refers to the “beatific, happifying sight of God.”

Ortlund concludes:

So God communicates to his people of his own happiness. They are partakers of that infinite fountain of joy and blessedness by which he himself is happy. God is infinitely happy in himself, and he gives his people to be happy in Him.

Reactionary or Reformed Theology
Whenever serious error arises, like the Osteens’ Prosperity Gospel message, we’re always at risk of framing our theology in opposition to the error rather than by taking it straight from the Bible. Reformed Theology re-forms the biblical message from the Bible; Reactionary Theology forms theology in opposition to an error. In doing so – whether it’s in reaction to secular psychology, moralistic preaching, legalism, antinomianism, or the prosperity gospel – we run the real risk of going too far the other way and losing biblical vocabulary and concepts.

I don’t want the Osteens’ happiness. But neither do I want to lose true biblical happiness. I steadfastly refuse to let the Osteens’ steal this beautiful biblical word from me or the Church. Instead, let’s reclaim it and fill it with biblical ballast. By doing so we can surely out-happify the Osteens. And yes, that kind of happiness will pass the Mosul test.

UPDATE: In response to a commenter looking for my definition of happiness, here are a few previous posts I’ve written on the subject.

40 Joys Through Jesus

The Happiest People in the World

What is Christian Happiness?

Why is happiness such hard work?

A Very Different and Unexpected Happiness