For note-taking to be a fruitful venture and impact positively on academic success, you need to consider certain things – you need to understand the importance and know the best method of taking notes for maximum positive results.

The brain will forget

The brain is considered the most complex part of the human being. It is amazing the amount of information that it can store. No known computer can store and process information like the brain. We can only begin to appreciate the brain when we consider that all we see as inventions today began their journeys to being in the brain. Yet, despite its awesome ability, the human brain still forgets things. Studies have shown that many of us forget half of what we learn within 24 hours of learning it and that the percentage increases with time (Haghverdi, Biria, & Karimi 2010). This underscores the reason why we need to take note of important things when we engage in any interaction where we would later need to recall what happened or what we learnt. For example, minutes are taken at meetings, and students are advised to take notes when studying.

Advantages of note-taking

  1. When you take notes, it is like storing up something for later use. Your brain may forget but the paper doesn’t.  You can always refer to what is written down and be reminded of what you may have forgotten.
  • Taking notes creates the need to be attentive. The most attentive person in a meeting is the person taking the minutes. Being more attentive ensures that you gain more from the reading or lecture.
  • Note-taking reduces large amounts of information into smaller sizes. This helps recall of information making it easy to revise and shortens the time required for studying. It is the student’s way of writing information received in their words for easy recall. If done correctly, note-taking will alert students to areas they don’t understand and they can then ask for clarifications from the lecturer if in a lecture or go back to relevant sections if reading from a book.
  • Lecturers do give important information that is not available in textbooks and the information is lost to students who do not take notes. What happens if such is asked in the exam?

Common note-taking methods

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is book-2304388_1920-1024x683.jpg

There are different ways of taking notes that you can use based on your preferences and learning style.  The common ones include the following:

The Cornell Method

In the Cornell method, you divide your page into two. The left side will be 2 inches wide while the right side will be 6 inches. Keywords are written on the left and notes on the topic on the right. The summary is at the bottom part of the page.

The Outlining Method

Using this method, you write the topic or keywords first and write notes related to it under it. The keywords are written on top while the notes are written indented under it.

The Map Mapping Method

This method tries to link threads of thoughts by drawing lines from the main topics and to subtopics and notes from there.

The Charting Method

The charting method involves the use of tables to record your notes. You will find topics, subtopics, and relevant notes in columns.

The Sentence Method

You are using the sentence method when you take notes in the form of sentences. You record statements, data, and other information in sentence form.

Best Practice When Taking Notes

Whichever method you decide to use, there are basic principles to follow depending on whether you are taking notes while reading or listening to a lecture.

If taking notes while reading:

 Don’t copy directly from the material you are reading. You should paraphrase the information in your own words.

Engage in skimming by look through the content of the material and create an outline based on the headings and subheadings which are pointers to what you should pay attention to as you read. Leave space after each heading or subheading so you can add your notes there later.

Put your notebook aside and focus on your reading material. Annotate as you read. Underline or highlight important, write questions that come to your mind, and look for answers as you read further. This will make it easier for you to access later.

When you have finished reading, fill in the gaps under the headings and subheadings with relevant information from memory.

Check that you have the correct information by consulting your reading material. Fill in what is missing or inadequate. Make sure your notes are not too scanty.  

Write a summary of what you have read.

If you are taking notes during a lecture:

Read preassigned portions of your textbook in preparation for your class. This gives you an idea of what to expect during the lecture.

Don’t try to write everything the lecturer says. Take note of only the main ideas. To be sure you have the important information, pay attention to the introduction, repetitions, and conclusions. Also, pay attention if your lecturer says something like, “points to consider”ª or “it is important to note”ª.

Use headings and subheadings for easy access later.

Develop or adopt a system of using abbreviations or shorthand when taking notes in a lecture. Although you are not writing everything your lecturer says, you will still miss out on a lot of information if you don’t write fast.

Whether in a lecture or reading on your own, there are different Apps that you may consider using to take notes. You must however ensure that you get familiar with using it and that it does not become a distraction. Some of the Apps are EverNote, OneNote, Notion, Roam Research, Bear, Typora, Slite, Ulysses, Apple Notes, Google Keep, and Standard Notes.

Works Consulted

Haghverdi, H.R., Biria, R. and Karimi, L., 2010. The Effect of Note-taking Strategies Instruction on the Students’ Academic Achievement. Journal of Asia TEFL7(2).

 Effective Note-Taking in Class

40 Free Cornell Note Templates (with Cornell Note Taking Explained)

Common Note-taking Methods

How to Take Better Notes: The 6 Best Note-Taking Systems