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Effective Note-Taking

by Brenda Mao

Remembering all the content covered in a class can be difficult, especially as classes get harder. That’s why it’s important to take notes – and take notes effectively. Taking notes in class can not only help you focus during class, but also improve your active listening, comprehension, and retention. Additionally, one of the best ways to review for a test or quiz is to study your notes, so it is crucial to ensure your notes are efficient and organized.

General Tips

  • Focus on the main points that your teacher covers, rather than copying down every word they say. 
  • Take note of keywords, dates, names, etc.
  • Make sure your notes are concise, organized, and easy to understand. You can also consider using abbreviations, symbols, and bullet points to keep things short. 
  • Find a format of taking notes that works best for you, including whether you prefer handwritten or typed notes. There are advantages and disadvantages to all formats and methods, so take the time to figure out what helps you the most.

Formats for Notes

1. Cornell Notes: This method includes three sections – notes, cues, and summary – to make it easy to structure and organize your thoughts. The idea is to jot down any notes from class in the “Notes” section, and then fill out the “Cues” (keywords, questions, etc.) and “Summary” (summary of the notes) section after class. The Cornell Method is a great format if you’re looking to review the concepts covered in class. However, some people find this method restricting due to the way the page is split up.

2. Outline: This is a very simple and straightforward way to take notes – use a bullet point list to organize main ideas and sub-ideas underneath it. It’s main selling point is its simplicity and structure, but it can become overwhelming to review and time-consuming to use during class. Typing instead of writing by hand might be more effective for your time.

3. Flowchart/Concept Map: This is a great way to connect your ideas for topics that are complex or abstract. Start with a main idea in the center, then draw related ideas branching off. Creating a flowchart is great for visual learners and organizing your thoughts on paper, but it can be time-consuming to put together. 

4. Charting Method: This method uses columns with details underneath to organize information. Figure out the topics you will use for the columns beforehand, and add details to the columns during class. This is generally a pretty efficient way to organize and track information, but some more detailed information might be lost. 

5. Sentence Method: This format involves writing every new piece of information on a separate line in a concise manner. People often use abbreviations and shorthand to keep these notes brief. It’s a great way to take detailed notes, but it’s difficult to review and edit.

6. Writing on Slides: Perhaps the easiest method, this simply involves downloading any documents that your teacher provides, and writing any additional details that they may discuss. This is simple and effective, and can also help with remembering exactly what your teacher said.

Taking notes in class can be difficult to get into and hard to manage at first, but it is extremely helpful for reviewing material and studying for assessments.

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