Note-taking techniques are the secret to university success. If you know how to take notes effectively, you'll be able to retain and retrieve information much more easily.
It's all about finding a balance between not taking any notes at all and relying on memory and writing absolutely everything down. The trouble with writing notes nonstop is that you stop listening or understanding the information being provided to you.
In most cases, it's quite often that if your class features a PowerPoint presentation, the teacher will send round a copy of the presentation after the class. So you might be thinking that no notes are needed... think again!
Most presentations contain pointers/signposts. This makes them a good point of reference, but most of the vital information you need will be directly spoken to you. This is where taking notes effectively can really help.
Learn to take killer notes at uni with this guide and improve your studying. Our guide outlines some of the most popular methods for note taking, including the outlining method, the Cornell method, the mapping method and more. We also share the benefits of taking notes, what you should do before, during and after your class, as well as a discussion based on the difference between physical note-taking and digital note-taking.
Before we get stuck into the various different methods of taking notes within your class, let's cover the benefits of taking notes and how it can improve your studying.
Learning to take notes effectively will help to increase your academic success and help you to make the most out of your education. Effective note-taking can help to promote active listening during your lecture or seminar, provide a framework for revision, and improve your understanding of a particular topic.
Although you might think just attending your lecture or class is good enough, it's important to prep before your class. This will help maximise your study and make good use of all the resources available to you.
Before your lecture, find out the topic or title of the lecture. Consider what you might expect from the lecture, how it fits into your module. Familiarise yourself briefly with the topic with some initial research or briefly reading through any corresponding chapters in your textbook.
Lastly, you should identify what you want to get out of the lecture. List some potential questions you might have regarding the topic, and gather any further background knowledge.
Note-taking methods have evolved from simple pen and paper. Physical notes and digital note-taking have their pros and cons and it's important to discover what works best for you.
Putting pen to paper can increase proactive learning. Physically writing something down can allow information to be absorbed easier and retained for longer. Writing your notes by hand also forces you to slow down and focus on what's important.
Digital note-taking via a laptop or iPad can have benefits over physical notes. Digital notes can be taken quicker, meaning more information can be written down. They are also neater and easier to read later on.
Do you prefer physical notes or digital notes?
The Outlining Method of note-taking is perhaps the most common form of taking notes at university. This method is most useful when information needs organising from a main idea into lots of different details and points.
To carry out The Outlining Method of taking notes, you're going to be listing key points and then organising further points/details in an organised pattern based on space indentation. The information which is most general begins at the left with each more specific group of facts indented with spaces to the right. The relationship between the different parts is carried out through the indentation.
The Outlining Method can be a well-organised system when done right, as it reduces the editing process and is easy to review later on when you're reading through your notes. Think of this method almost like a list of information.
Invented in the 1950s by Walker Pauk, The Cornell Method mixes both visual and written aspects to form a well-organised note system. The idea of The Cornell Method is to divide a piece of paper into three sections:
To prep your notes for The Cornell Method, take your paper and draw a vertical line down the left-hand side of the paper to form the ‘Cue Column'. This section will be used for your key points and key questions, where words and phrases can act very useful. The ‘Note-Taking Column' is the section for your general notes, best written in a sentence format.
Then draw a horizontal line all the way across the paper at the bottom to form the ‘Summary' area. This pretty much speaks for itself but it's a good section to refer to for reviewing your notes.
This method may sound quite complicated but once you've got the hang of it, it can be a great tool for organising your notes into different sections and areas to re-visit when doing your revision.
The Mapping Method of note-taking is particularly effective for visual learners. You can record all your notes in a handwritten way but in a visual format. It's a popular method for many students and a go-to option for revision.
The advantages of using The Mapping Method are that this format presents the information at a glance, providing a great overview of a topic. Mind maps encourage you to take fewer yet more meaningful notes and are designed to trigger the brain with mental references such as images, icons and colours.
The aim is to start off with a central bubble, which will resemble a topic as a whole. Then you create sub-bubbles, which lead off from the central point but all relate in some way or another. You expand and connect each concept and idea as the lecture goes on. Sometimes your mind map notes get a little messy, so it's always good to write them up neatly after your lecture.
The Charting Method of note taking is quite self-explanatory and comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Particularly effective for visual and organised learners, The Charting Method is systematic, presenting the most relevant information and is easy to review at a later date.
This note-taking method requires you to set up your paper into columns with appropriate labels.
After dividing the paper up, write down your notes in the relevant column. This method is most useful for content-heavy lectures where there's simply too much information to write down, and therefore brief but organised notes will be the most effective.
Although incredibly useful, the disadvantages to The Charting Method is that it can be tricky to set up because you need to know the content which is being covered beforehand. But, as long as your lecturers are as organised as you are, it should be fine.
The Sentence Method of note taking is simply writing notes in a sentence structure and then filling in the gaps later on. The benefits to this note-taking method are that it's more organised than writing in paragraphs, and it gets more or all of the information spoken out to you in the lecture.
This particular method is useful when the lecture is quite content-heavy and information comes at you quickly.
To carry out The Sentence Method of taking notes, write every new thought, fact or topic on a separate line, numbering each line as you progress. This means you can hear the different points and then review your notes immediately after your class to organise them and fill in the gaps.
It's recommended to take the time to edit the notes and organise them into headings, sub-headings and main ideas.
Now that you're aware of the different methods for effective note-taking, there are also a couple of key pointers to remember for both during your class and when your class has finished.
Once you've had your class or lecture, you should try to do the following to improve your studying: