Need to take notes for college and beyond? Try these methods & strategies to get the most out of your notes 🧠 ✏️
Have you ever considered how your notetaking affects how well you do in school or work?
Taking good notes isn't enough to do well if your strategy starts and ends in the classroom, the meeting room, or the boardroom.
The best note-taking strategies include pre- and post-note-taking work.
These strategies address:
The method you use to take notes
How you structure and organize your notes
How you build out and connect ideas
How you use your notes for assignments, research, review, and study
Why Having a Note-taking Strategy Is Important
There's no reason to take notes if you never need to access that information again. But that's rarely the case.
In college we have exams. At work, we often need to document everything.
At a minimum, you'll want to access what you learned for assessments, projects, or job tasks, or what important decisions were made on a project at work.
The keys to a good note-taking strategy are:
Easy to use
Can quickly write, or type, use symbols and shorthand, and add drawings or images
Allows you to structure and (re)organize information for access later
Easy to read and understand afterwards
Allows you to summarize and synthesize content
How to Take Your Notes
Easy to use and familiar
No power supply needed
Can be easier to carry around
Cheaper than a digital device
Less digital distractions
No automatic or quick backups
More difficult to add content within the lecture notes
More difficult to search and connect concepts
Easy to add information into lecture notes after class
Search options allow quicker access to keywords
Easy to back-up
Typing during a fast-paced lecture can be difficult
Need to have a power supply (or backup paper notebook) just in case
A Hybrid of Both
The best of both methods
More time in transcribing notes from handwritten to digital (which could be considered a review method, and therefore a pro)
Most of Shay's courses are lectures and she's heard one of her professors talks really fast. What note-taking method should Shay consider? Select all that apply:
How to Organize Your Notes
Whether you choose to handwrite or type your notes, consider these six methods for structuring and organizing your materials.
The Cornell method uses a three-section layout for notes, questions (cues), and a summary.
This method builds in review as the questions (cues) and summary section are completed after a lecture.
Familiar and well-documented method
Takes some practice to get used to it
The Outline method uses an outline structure with main concepts and subtopics and supporting information indented.
Familiar and well-documented
Quick and easy
Difficult to add additional notes to it (when handwritten)
The Mapping method is a visual method like mind mapping. You add main concepts, subtopics, and supporting information, then link the ideas together.
Great for creating visual links between topic ideas
Not as suitable for notes with formulas and equations
The Charting method is best used for comparisons between ideas or concepts. You create a chart where the columns represent the items being compared, and the rows have the criteria.
Great for comparisons of information or when information has similar data types (e.g. dates of events)
Not suitable for regular notetaking
The Zettelkasten method is not only for note-taking but also for knowledge management. It's also known as a networked thinking approach to notetaking. This means it's designed not only to add notes, but to retrieve them for a purpose, and over a long period of time.
Can quickly add connections between notes (when done digitally)
Can't be done easily when handwritten
The Sentence method is an easy and familiar method. It uses line gaps between sentences to keep information separate and to use during review.
Quick and easy
doesn't require page setup beforehand
Difficult to add information afterwards (when handwritten)
How to Use Your Preferred Tools & Materials
Depending on the method you select, you'll need different tools and materials to support your notetaking strategy. Consider your budget when it comes to choosing supplies and replenishing them.
Also consider these tools and materials for:
Paper — ruled, dot grid, graph, or blank
Organization — notebook, binder and loose-leaf paper, sketchbook, or similar
Main notes — pens and/or pencils
For color — pens, pencils, or highlighters
Structure or templates — ruler
Other tools — sticky notes, tabs, dividers, or other items to keep notes searchable and organized
Device — laptop, but other digital devices could be used as a backup or to augment
Software or apps — needs to work with operating system and note-taking method. Consider:
OneNote, Apple Notes, Google Keep
EverNote or Joplin
Obsidian or Logseq
How to Use Your Notes
Consider incorporating these strategies and best practices for great notes:
Prepare your notetaking space in your notebook, binder, or notetaking app
Review and take notes on assignments directly into your notes space
Print, link, or embed lecture note slides if available and add them to notes
Quickly take notes using shorthand, abbreviations, symbols, or other methods
Take notes directly on printed slides, or next to linked slides to provide context for your notes
Mark where you are confused and have questions so you can review later
Focus on the main concepts and ideas rather than stories and side topics
Have a notetaking and study partner, or colleague, that you can review notes afterwards
Review all areas where you had question marks and questions about the content and do your own research to fill in these gaps, add that to your notes, or ask someone for clarification
Connect ideas to other notes you've taken
You are preparing for your final exam. You grab your notes and sit down to study. What methods will you use with your notes? Select all that apply:
Whatever strategy you choose, there's no one right way to take notes.
Try out your strategy:
Practice a strategy exclusively for one week
Modify it or try another strategy the next week
Continue to adjust until you find a method that works for you
Then reflect on your strategy: