Wondering how to take notes more effectively?
You’re not alone.
Taking great notes isn’t easy. A lot is going on in the classroom, and knowing what to write down (and how to organise it) can be confusing.
Maybe you take notes during class, only to get home and find a jumble of facts and dates.
Or maybe you feel as if you’re constantly behind because you can’t take notes fast enough while the teacher is talking.
Don’t worry. Learning how to properly take notes is easier than you think.
With the right study tips and note-taking techniques, you’ll improve your focus in the classroom. You’ll also recall information more effectively and get better grades.
In this article, we’ll explore different note-taking styles, so you can choose the system that works best for you. Then, we’ll review my top 12 tips for better note-taking.
Let’s get started!
There’s no perfect note-taking technique. Try a few of these popular strategies to determine which system works best for you.
You might want to use different note-taking methods for various situations and subjects — that’s great!
What matters most is that your notes help you understand and remember the information more easily.
Here’s the first strategy…
Outlining is a helpful way to break down complex ideas into logical, bite-sized points.
It creates a well-organised and hierarchical structure. As such, you can easily pick out the main ideas and supporting information.
Here’s a quick example of what an outline might look like:
- Supporting point
- Supporting point
- Supporting point
- Supporting point
Using Roman numerals, bullet points, or dashes to structure your outline is not essential. But you should be consistent with the symbols you use.
Outlining is one of the most popular note-taking methods for a reason. It’s easy to learn, and it works well for most subjects.
But this method might not be suitable for topics or subjects that don’t follow a linear structure. So here’s the next strategy you can try…
The Cornell Method
The Cornell Method is a simple system for taking, organising, and reviewing notes.
The technique was created at Cornell University in the 1950s and is a popular way for students to take notes.
Here’s how the Cornell Method works:
Divide a sheet of paper into four sections: a small area at the top and bottom with two columns in between. The right column should be about three times as wide as the left column.
The top section is for the title or header so that you can keep your notes in order.
Your notes go in the two columns.
Use the column on the left for questions, ideas, or main topics. The right column is your primary note-taking column. Finally, summarise all the information in the blank space at the bottom.
When reviewing your notes after class, return to the left-hand column to establish connections and write down key facts or insights.
Many students enjoy using the Cornell Method because their notes become a handy study guide. Simply cover up your notes in the right column, then use the questions and cues in the left column to recall the key information.
Like outlining, the Cornell Method might not be well suited to every single topic or subject. But if you need to break down complex subjects into core concepts, the Cornell Method might be for you.
Let’s move on to the next method…
Make a mind map
Are you a visual learner?
Then you might like using mind maps when taking notes.
This note-taking strategy is a diagramming technique used to brainstorm ideas and show the connections between key concepts.
You can think of a mind map as a tree.
The central topic is the “tree trunk” – write it in the centre of your paper. All major themes and points branch out from your main idea. Sub-points and smaller ideas grow off your branches.
You can use lines, bubbles, or arrows to show connections between different topics. The idea is to structure your thoughts by relationships rather than linearly.
A mind map is a helpful solution to the question of how to take notes when you’re visualising ideas, connecting concepts, or outlining essays.
Here’s another note-taking approach that you can use…
Create charts of key information
Do you like to see your notes sorted into clear blocks of information?
If so, you might gravitate towards using charts when you take notes.
With charting, you’ll split your sheet of paper into several columns and rows. Each column gets its own category; use the rows for summarising information and writing down details.
Charting is an efficient way to take notes if you’re comparing topics and information. But it might not be the best approach when you’re learning complicated topics that discuss many interrelated ideas.
Here’s what I want you to keep in mind…
Different note-taking techniques (and memory techniques too) work for different students.
Don’t worry about choosing the perfect method. There’s no such thing! Try out a few different strategies and see which ones help you understand and recall information the best.
Now, let’s take a closer look at how to take better notes and improve your overall strategy when it comes to studying.
12 tips to take better notes (and make the most of those notes)
Getting good grades isn’t mainly about studying harder. It’s about studying smarter.
Use these note-taking tips to set yourself up for more productive study sessions.
You’ll retain more of what you learn, so you’ll stop getting bad grades — and you’ll enjoy a better school-life balance, too.
1. Don’t copy what your teacher says word-for-word
You’ll never be able to keep up if you try to do this.
Plus, your notes will be a mess to work through later on. Instead, focus on writing down the key phrases and ideas that matter most.
2. Add visual interest to your notes
Make it fun and satisfying to look at your notes!
Highlights, diagrams, and bullet points are just a few ways to make your notes visually appealing.
You definitely don’t have to go overboard and spend many hours doing this.
But if you put in the effort to add visual interest to your notes, you’ll enjoy the process of studying more too.
3. Write notes that make sense to you
Memorising the words and sentences on a page will only get you so far.
You’ll retain more information when you understand the concepts. So process and summarise what your teacher says by taking notes that make sense to you.
4. Take notes by hand
Using a laptop to take notes is a sure-fire way to get distracted.
Studies show that students who take notes by hand tend to perform better on tests and exams. So, if you’re asking how to take notes effectively, then swap the computer for pen and paper.
5. Review your notes later that same day
Don’t wait until the day before an exam to discover that you don’t fully understand a topic.
As far as possible, review the notes you took in class later that same day. This will help to keep the material fresh.
If you realise that you have doubts to clarify, approach your teacher the next day or as soon as you can.
6. Takes notes during every class
We forget about 40% of the new information we learn within 24 hours.
So I encourage you to always take notes, even if you think you already have a firm grasp of the subject material.
You might be surprised at what information you need to reference later on.
7. Use mnemonic devices in your notes
A mnemonic device is a system or trick that helps you better understand and remember information.
“Rebecca Of York Gave Birth In Vietnam” is an example of a mnemonic device you can use to remember the colours of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet).
Create your own mnemonic devices or word associations in your notes to help you remember key points while you’re studying.
8. Connect new concepts to ideas you’re already familiar with
You’ll learn new information faster when you connect it to a concept with which you’re already familiar.
So write down handy references or topics in your notes that bridge ideas together.
9. Stay organised
We’ve all been there before… frantically searching our backpacks or desks for that particular set of notes we need, the night before a huge exam.
Avoid this type of unnecessary stress by using organisational tips for students. Keep your class notes organised, separated by subject, and sorted by date.
Here’s a simple trick for how to take notes more effectively: Write the date, subject, and topic at the top of every page.
You’ll be glad you did later on because there won’t be any confusion about when you created that set of notes, etc.!
10. Use abbreviations and symbols
Use abbreviations and symbols (like e.g., @ and arrows) when you’re taking notes.
These shortcuts will allow you to focus on what the teacher is saying without falling behind.
11. Sit at the front of the class
Studies show that students who sit at the front of the class tend to get higher exam scores.
So, if you have a choice, grab a seat at the front!
You’ll be able to see the board more easily and hear the teacher more clearly. You’ll be able to focus better, too.
This way, you’ll make the most of every class you attend.
12. Compare notes with a classmate
Do you have a study buddy?
Or at least a classmate you get along with fairly well?
Periodically review your notes with this classmate. You might discover that he or she picked up valuable information that you missed — and vice versa.
When you learn how to take notes effectively, you’ll set yourself up for success for years to come.
You don’t need to implement every single tip in this article right away.
Get comfortable with a note-taking style that works for you, then try incorporating a new tip every week. Soon, you’ll master the art of note-taking!
Taking better notes is an excellent start to attaining academic excellence.
But if you want to become a focused student who doesn’t procrastinate and who aces every exam, you need a proven, step-by-step system.
If you’re ready to become a successful student who consistently gets straight A’s, check out my study skills course called The Perfect Study Plan.
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