How To Take Better Notes: In-Depth Guide With Great 4 Systems

If you want to know how to take better notes, you’ll love this article.

Effective note taking is very important at all levels of schooling (in college, too). Notes act as a reliable means of helping us record and retrieve information we have learned in class.

Due to the wide scope of study and limited contact time with our teachers, it’s not possible to keep everything they say in class in our memories.

In fact what we retain from class is just a small percentage. The role of the teacher or lecturer is to introduce the central concept and reasoning behind a particular topic.

It’s now upon us to study around it, grasp the concept fully and remember important facts about that topic.

Class notes are a very important tool when it comes to preparing for exams. You realize that most exam questions will be based on what the teacher taught in class.

For effective note taking we need to improve our listening skills. Yes, listening is a skill that many students do not have.

In fact students develop the skill of listening way later in college whereas it could have helped them much more when in high school.

Listening is not just sitting there in class and taking notes. It’s much more than that.

In fact I believe that students should be taught how to listen as one of the very first subjects to put them in good stead to take in more from their teachers in the other subjects.

Let me highlight some important listening tips.

In order to listen and grasp what our lecturer want us to understand, we should be at least familiar with the subject.

Bright students read ahead before the teacher come in to teach that topic. This aids our listening as we are already familiar with the topic and some of the words that are involved.

We have all been in class where a teacher mentioned some words which we couldn’t even write correctly.

We might be left behind in our note taking since we are trying to get the correct spelling. With advance reading of the subject matter, this is eliminated.

The second point is to understand when the teacher is giving important information.

Normally, this will be the point where they pose, emphasize, repeat what they have said, ask a few questions, use tonal variation or give examples. This is when you need to listen attentively and fully concentrate to get the point.

Maintain eye contact with the teacher when you are not scribbling down your notes. This will help you focus as well as notice when an important point is being delivered.

Do not make premature judgment on your teacher. This is something that most students are guilty of.

They dismiss a teacher as boring depending on their mode of delivery. This is wrong as your mind will not concentrate fully.

Every time you hear this teacher speak, you’ll only be thinking of how boring he/she is and in the process important points escape your attention. Try to view all teachers as equally able and focus on the content not the delivery.

Have a good speed in writing down notes as most teachers will be fast due to the limited time on their schedule.

This will be achieved by minimizing distractions during class and avoiding thinking about anything else outside class.

Let us look at some of the effective note taking techniques.

I will outline different techniques as studies have shown students will have different techniques that they will find effective for their case.

It’s good for students to experiment early enough in their high school to determine what works for them depending on their abilities, situation and preferences.

All these techniques have been put forward by leading experts in the field of education.

How To Take Better Notes:

The Cornell Note Taking Technique.

This note technique was put forward by Walter Pauk, a professor at Cornell University (1).

It’s one of the most recognized techniques and many former students have attested to its usefulness.

The aim of this technique is to help students, at all levels of education, to systematically record, analyze synthesis and reflect on the subject given in class.

The Cornell system is an effective way of organizing your notes in class in such a way that you can go back to them, identify the key points and recall information easily.

It also helps you identify the key action areas so that you can follow up.

To start on this system, divide your normal book page into three sections. The main section will be on the right hand side of your page which you shall use to write down notes in class.

All important information, definitions, statements should be put down here.

On the left hand side, there will be a small section (about 2 inches) which you shall use to write cues to your notes, questions, major points, tips to help you relate information on this page with any idea you might be having.

This should be done less than 24 hours after taking the notes. This means that you have to go through your notes in this time frame.

In fact if you do so, you increase your chances of retaining information that you learned. The other section will be at the bottom of the page.

This will be for summarizing your notes on that page in a few sentences highlighting the major points.

The success of the Cornell method has been attributed to the fact that students should go through their notes within a short period of time after taking them, when the content is still fresh in their minds and take out all major point, identify actions areas, do any follow up and summarize notes on each page.

This cements the information in their brains.

When revising later for the exams, the student will only need to go through the cues written on the left hand side section and the summary section at the bottom of the page.

SEE ALSO: How To Remember Better When Studying [New 7-Step Guide]

The Outline Method

This is the oldest of the note taking techniques.

It works well for some students depending on the situation and the nature of the subject being covered. The main idea behind this technique is to arrange ideas and points in order of importance, flow and how they interrelate to each other.

Ideas are labeled in a list either by use of roman numbers or letters. For each labeled point we can have several sub points.

If you used roman numbers, you use Arabic numeral to list these points.

If you were using capital letters, you now use lower case letters to list the sub points; you can still interchange numbers and letters to label points and sub points.

The outlining technique is very successful when dealing with a subject that have a lot of content and interrelated facts unlike the Cornell method which is more successful at technical subjects.

When using this system always leave some addition space after each point so that in case you find more points when going through your textbook, you can always add them to your notes.

Remember that most probably the teacher will only give you the important points and leave out the rest for your discovery or as an assignment.

Outlines are good for organized notes (2) with all information regarding a particular point found together.

Remember we said earlier that our brains love order and when things are orderly we increase our chances of remembering.

Outlining is also very highly visual and this aids in remembering. When putting down notes in the outline technique, we only put down a summary of a few words on each point.

Outlining will also help us exhaust all points within a certain topic before moving ahead. If this technique works for you then master it and use it to study effectively.

However, of your subject is of a very high technical nature or is of an abstract nature, don’t force this technique; explore other techniques for more effective and efficient note taking.

The Charting Method

This is another of the effective note taking techniques that aids in efficient learning. Just like the outline method, this is a time tested technique which has been successful.

This method involves writing down your notes by grouping them together in labeled columns. The advantage of this method is that it avoids repetition and helps the student take notes very quickly.

It favors students in high paced classes where note taking speed if of the essence. The student doesn’t have to note many details about something since he will already have placed it in the right category.

Unlike the other two methods mentioned before, this requires the student to have a prior knowledge of the subject and herein lays its success.

The student will go through the subject before class time and get the general feeling of what the topic is about.

He then takes his note book and divides it in to a few columns per page. Each column will be labeled appropriately.

If for instance it’s a history topic, the columns might be periods in time, events, and important people and hence forth.

When the teacher will be delivering the lesson, the student will then group information in the right category.

As we had seen with the outline method, information grouped together is easily remembered. So for instance if we are talking about important political events of the 20th century, then these will be all together in one column and hence easily remembered.

This is in contrast to the case where we take a certain year, discuss the events, people involved, outcomes realized and hence forth.

When we group information this way, it becomes even easier to relate between the columns.

For chronological information, this is the best note taking method. You are able to go with the flow and memorize facts easily.

The fact that you will have gone through what the teacher will deliver in class puts you in a good position to fully understand and comprehend.

The only limiting issue with this method is when you encounter information that doesn’t fit into labeled columns, but since you will have noted it earlier you will have decided to supplement it with another method such as the outline.

SEE ALSO: How To Become a Fast Learner And Study a Subject Quickly And Well

The Sentence Method

This is the most basic of note taking methods. It’s what all students are exposed to at first before they can learn of the more advanced techniques.

However, it’s still very useful especially in a number of situations which we’ll be looking at very shortly.

The sentence method involves writing down everything you hear in class or more less so.

However, you can’t possibly keep up with the pace of the teacher while writing down everything, so you need to have to employed short hand techniques where you abbreviate words, use acronyms or even symbols.

Every time your teacher moves on to another point, you start a new sentence and write down what they say. Leave a small space between points for any additional information you may need to put down.

This method will not require prior preparation. Just walking into a class and taking notes will be very easy.  However, it becomes a lesser effective method when you want to have a good grasp of the subject in class.

In the sentence method, students will mostly just listen to the teacher, take notes and leave the class. A lot of time and effort will be required later to get a full grasp of the notes.

However this method is pretty effective when you are dealing with a subject where everything that the teacher says is a fact.

Here nothing will be left behind; you’ll note everything as a source of reference.

Some subjects will have little readily available information from other sources rather than the teacher and hence it will be critical to note everything down for future reference.

You’ll then need to spend some time going through these notes and probably noting down all the major points and cues to remember. This should be done as soon as possible after taking the notes.

Effective note taking helps us study better and more efficiently. We spend lesser time revising when we have taken good notes.

There are a few other notes taking technique but I thought to highlight these few as they have been proven to be the most effective.

Now it’s upon you to choose the best method for you depending on your preferences and the nature of your subjects.

You can combine two methods or chose different methods for different topics.

The goal here is to have readily readable notes that will refresh your mind and help you remember what your learned in class earlier.

Thank you for reading this article about how to take better notes and I really hope that you take action my advice.

I wish you good luck and I hope its contents have been a good help to you.

Przemkas Mosky
Przemkas Mosky started Perfect 24 Hours in 2017. He is a Personal Productivity Specialist, blogger and entrepreneur. He also works as a coach assisting people to increase their motivation, social skills or leadership abilities. Read more here