How to Take Study Notes: 5 Effective Note Taking Methods and Essential Tips
We understand that taking notes isn’t always easy, especially when your professor flips through lecture slides faster than you can blink.
So, whether you’re in first year attending your first college lectures or in fourth year, experienced with taking lecture notes, we got you covered with effective notetaking methods AND essential general tips to take your notes to the next level!
Effective Note Taking Methods
Of course, recording the main ideas of lectures and textbooks should be the focus when taking notes, but if it is incredibly messy and is even hard for yourself to read over after, it’ll just be that much harder for you to effectively learn what you are taking note of.
Having a structure is very important as well; so here are 5 notetaking methods for you to try out and see what works best for you!
#1: The Cornell Method
This method breaks down your page into 3 easily readable sections but conveniently has the main points during and after class, and a brief summary all on one page to easily identify main ideas and concepts. These are the sections:
1. During Class: The main section where you take notes during class
2. After Class: Where you write down key ideas, comments and questions after class.
3. Summary: An overall, brief summary of the entire lesson
#2: The Outline Method
This method organizes the page through a series of bullet points to identify main topics, then sub-topics within those main topics, and so on. This is a great method when dealing with a lot of detail in your classes. A key benefit of this method is how clearly you can see how topics and sub-topics are related to each other.
The page is structured with a main topic, a subtopic right underneath the main topic with an indent to the right, then another subtopic/key point right underneath the first subtopic with another indent to the right, etc.
#3: The Sentence Method
Probably one of the simpler methods, you would just write down each key point as a sentence with bullet points, numbers, etc. This is best with very fast paced lectures where you just need to get the core concepts written down quickly. You can further organize this by leaving a blank space or heading whenever a new topic begins.
One thing to keep in mind is to ONLY write down the main points/topics so it is easy to review and identify what the main ideas are or else you’ll have written down so many lines that probably aren’t significant.
#4: The Charting Method
Just as it sounds, this method uses a chart to structure the information. This is a great method to clearly see how main topics are related and compared. This is also great for recording a lot of facts, statistics, etc. for a given topic.
#5: The Mapping Method
This method is the most visual method of the 5 and resembles a tree diagram. A key benefit of this method is its ability to display the relationship between main topics and sub-topics, main topics and other main topics, and sub-topics and other sub-topics.
Feel free to color-coat the main topics, sub-topics, key details, etc. to make it even easier to visually understand.
Now that you have 5 note taking methods in your arsenal, all that’s left to do is experiment and try them all and after you choose your method, achieving that A will be that much easier.
However, to make achieving that A even easier, we have some really great general tips to keep in mind when you’re taking notes. Check it out below!
Essential General Note Taking Tips
Go prepared! 📓
The more prepared you are, the less time you’ll spend on organizing yourself in the lecture, and the more time you’ll have to focus on taking detailed and filtered notes.
In general, it’s incredibly helpful to read the material for that week’s lecture beforehand so it’s fresh in your head. This will allow you to follow along and really understand the material in-depth during the lecture, allowing you to take detailed and specific notes instead of scrambling to understand a certain concept while trying to keep up with the next topic.
Of course it’s easier said than done to read the material for all of your courses every week, but even if you spend 1 hour/course each week (that’s only 5 hours/week if you’re taking 5 courses!) briefly looking over the material, this will help tremendously when you’re taking notes because of your familiarity with it.
Not only is no one able to write down every single word your professor will say, but it’s also counter-effective as you won’t be truly understanding what you are writing down.
One thing to keep in mind is to listen first and take note of facts and phrases that stick out to you or you found interesting. You should find yourself listening 40% of the time and writing 60% of the time.
You can always revisit the lecture slides to get the smaller details of the lecture but the main concepts are the most important. The key is quality over quantity.
Content, Content, Content!
Content is King. While taking notes, you should always be prioritizing the content of what you are writing down vs. how it looks aesthetically. Spending too much time on underlining, bolding, italicizing, etc. is going to shift your focus away from what you need to be taking note of; the actual content of the lecture.
To help with this, try to use abbreviations such as: “w/” for “with”, “eqn” for “equation”, “mktg” for “marketing”, “cuz” for “because”, etc.
Probably the most important tip here, avoiding distractions such as social media both on your laptop and phone can do wonders for your notes. We know it’s hard to not be distracted, especially if you want to see what your friends did last weekend but staying focused while you’re taking notes will help you understand and soak in the lecture material much easier and allow you to make detailed and concise notes to help prepare for your next test.
If you’re taking notes on your laptop, turning off your WiFi can really help you to stay focused. Additionally, regardless of if you’re handwriting or typing your notes, turning off your phone is definitely something you should try next time!
Organize your notes 📁
It goes without saying that not everyone will learn the same way, so finding a note-taking method that works well for you is super helpful. Here are a few pointers for keeping your notes easy to read:
1. If you’re handwriting your notes, write on one side of the page only. This makes it easier to look back at your notes later on.
2. If you’re typing your notes, bullet points can really help organize topics and subtopics so that it’s easy to review later on!
3. Start each new lecture on a new page. Separating lectures can be helpful, be sure to also include dates and the lecture number to help keep them in order!
4. Leave spaces between topics. These spaces can be helpful later on when you review your notes and if you need to add in anything.
5. Sticky notes can be your best friend when you run out of room on your page and need to add in a comment or question in your notes
Read over your notes later 🔎
Last but definitely not least, reading over your notes before your next class is one of the best things you can do. Take this time to go over the topics that you understood but more importantly, the topics you weren’t too sure of.
For the bits you don’t understand be sure to add extra notes in the blank spaces you left and keep track of what you’re confused about. Professors have office hours for a reason – don’t be afraid to go and ask for help! (Office hours are far too underutilized and are a great resource to clarify and understand concepts and get to know your professor as well).
If you combine one of the mentioned note taking methods with some or all of the general note taking tips, we guarantee it will be much easier to stay on top of your courses and stay organized. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be overjoyed to go to class! Now go and ace those classes!
Originally written by OneClass https://oneclass.com/blog/uncategorized/10624-how-to-take-good-class-notes-at-oneclass.en.html