Taking notes

How To Take Killer Notes In Class (And Improve Your Studying)

Classes and lectures are the basis to your education and learning. If you can learn to take notes in class effectively, then you’ll be able to retain and retrieve information much more easily and therefore will improve your studying and aid in successful end results.

It’s all about finding a balance between not taking any notes at all (as you may think that your brain will be able to retain all the information) to writing absolutely everything down and not actually listening or understanding any of the information being provided to you by your lecturer.

In most cases, it’s quite often that if your class features a powerpoint presentation, the teacher will usually send round a copy of the presentation after the class. Therefore you might be thinking that no notes are needed... think again! Most presentations will usually contain pointers/signposts so are a good point of reference; however most of the vital information you need will be directly spoken to you. This is where taking notes and the different methods available come down to each individual and what might work best for you.

Learn to take killer notes in class with this guide and improve your studying. The guide outlines some of the most popular methods for note taking, which includes the outlining method, the cornell method, the mapping method and others. The feature also goes through 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.


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The Benefits of Taking Notes

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.


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Before Your Class - Preparation

Although you might think just attending your lecture or class is good enough, it’s important to prep before your class to ensure you maximise your study efforts and use all the resources available to you.

Before your lecture, find out the topic or title of the lecture from your timetable or ask your teacher. Consider what you might expect from the lecture, how it fits into your module and familiarise yourself briefly with the topic, by carrying out any initial research or briefly reading through any corresponding chapters in your textbook.

You should always do the required readings before your lecture, having a think which themes or sections you need to listen out for.

Lastly, you should identify what you want to get out of the lecture. For example, list out some potential questions you might have regarding the topic, and whether you want to gather any further background knowledge.


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Physical Vs Digital Notes

With the digital world booming more than ever and technology constantly developing, note-taking methods and study methods are constantly evolving. Both physical notes and digital notes have their pros and cons and it’s important to discover what works best for you, as we’re all different and what might work well for one classmate, might not work for another classmate.

No matter how great technology can be, some people will always prefer handwritten notes over digital notes. The act of pen on paper can increase proactive learning and physically writing something down can quite often mean that the information gets absorbed easier and gets retained for longer. Writing your notes by hand forces you to slow down and focus on what is important.

However, digital notes via a laptop or ipad can have its benefits over physical notes. Digital notes can be quicker, therefore more information from the lecture can be written down, and they can also be neater and easier to read later on. Digital notes almost cuts out the editing process as well, as most often you’ll need to write up your handwritten notes to make sense of what you wrote down. This will still need to happen for your digital notes but most likely much less.

Do you prefer physical notes or digital notes?


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The Outlining Method (Effective Note Taking)

The Outlining Method of note taking is perhaps the most common form of note taking used by university and college students. This method is most useful when information needs organising from a main idea into lots of different details and points.

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, almost like The Sentence Method but in a more structured format.

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.


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The Cornell Method (Effective Note Taking)

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 your piece of paper into three sections, the ‘Cue Column,’ the ‘Note-Taking Column’ and the ‘Summary.’

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. Vertically adjacent to the ‘Cue Column’ is the ‘Note-Taking Column’ which acts as the largest 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 from the ‘Summary’ area. This pretty much speaks for itself but it’s a good section to refer to for reviewing your notes in a week’s, two week’s or a month’s time.

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.


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The Mapping Method (Effective Note Taking)

The Mapping Method of note taking is particularly effective for visual learners, as 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 specific topic in a fun and visual way. 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.

When creating your mind map notes, you really can be creative as you like. The aim is to start off with a central bubble (which will resemble a topic as a whole) and then have sub-bubbles which lead off from the central point but all relate in some way or another. You can also have as many central bubbles as you like.

With your mind map, you could start off with a physical version in class and then you might want to expand and develop your mind map electronically where you don’t have the limitations of paper size.


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The Charting Method (Effective Note Taking)

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, presents the most relevant information and is easy to review at a later date.

Not one for the faint-hearted when it comes to organisation, this note 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 and you need to know the content which is being covered beforehand, so that you know how many columns you’ll need.


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The Sentence Method (Effective Note Taking)

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 is 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.


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Tips For During & After Your Class

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:

  • Write up your notes straight away, whilst they're fresh in your memory.
  • Store your notes correctly so you can refer back to them if you need to.
  • Ask your lecturer for a copy of the powerpoint presentation (if there was one).
  • Carry out any additional reading on the topic.

Depending on what kind of learner you are will depend on which method of note taking is most effective for your personality. During your study, classes and lectures are an essential learning tool for making the most out of your education and gaining results. Therefore it’s important to learn how to take killer notes in class effectively to retain and retrieve information much more easily.