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Last Updated on December 9, 2019

7 Most Efficient Note Taking Methods

7 Most Efficient Note Taking Methods

Whether you are going back to college or have decided to take learning into your own hands, note-taking is a skill that is truly unique.

On the surface, it can seem like jotting down the important points or stating everything word for word. But delving into the world of note-taking begins a realization that there is more to it than that.

So if you feel like your note skills are rusty, or if you didn’t care much about note-taking, here are some strategies to help you prepare and succeed in this area.

What to Do Before Note Taking

There are all kinds of strategies and systems in place to be taking notes. Some are more formal methods for taking notes while others are strategies that have helped others in the past. But before jumping into note-taking techniques, there are some things to consider prior to learning:

Adopt a Note Taking Mindset

Even our attitude and behavior plays a factor in our ability to take notes. For example, snacks with high sugar or high salt will impact our ability to pay attention to. This also applies to coffee which – if not consumed in moderation – can impact sleep and your ability to pay attention and focus as well.

In this regard, we can see already how mood can impact our ability to take notes. If we’re not focused or easily distracted, we will have a tougher time putting together accurate notes. But that is a more extreme case.

If you’re someone who doesn’t drink coffee or has a snack before class, attitude can still play a significant role. Think back to classes that you weren’t that excited for or that you were bad at. The only reason those topics are not your strong suit can be chalked up to your attitude.

Think about it:

The topics you excelled at made you feel good and you had a vested interest in. This is no different from other pursuits in your life. Compared to things you lack interest in, it’s clear that you would make no effort to learn about something that you don’t want.

So attitude makes a difference and this logic can be applied to even topics you’re not big on. All you need to do is have a positive attitude, pay attention, and study with a classmate or two.

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Preparing Before Class

First, if you are taking a formal course, it pays to be prepared. One study by Spies and Wilkin[1] found that law students who read a legal case before getting to class displayed deeper understanding of the material compared to others.

This doesn’t apply to courses where you are assigned reading but in all manner of courses. With plenty of information made available at our fingertips, there is a lot of opportunities for us to learn about the subject before a course or a training session.

This will pay off for you as you’ll spend more time focusing on understanding the tougher aspects of a topic rather than absorbing the information as is.

7 Efficient Note Taking Techniques

In Miami University’s public database, there is a course outlining note-taking and active listening [2]. These particular methods are some of the more popular methods for taking notes.

1. The Outline Method

This method is used for simplicity and is one of the easiest methods of taking notes. Anyone can pick up this method and use it with no issues.

When using this method, the idea is to select four or five key points that are going to be covered in a specific lesson. Under those key points, you write more in-depth sub-points based on what is being discussed on those topics.

The idea with this form of note taking is so it doesn’t overwhelm you. But you’ll pay attention in a different manner. In the case of this approach, if you know what’s being discussed, you’ll focus on the important aspects of that topic rather than wonder what’s coming up next.

Use this method in cases where:

  • You want your notes to be organized from the start.
  • To see the relationships between both topics and subtopics.
  • You want to convert the points into questions to quiz yourself on later.

2. The Cornell Method

Developed in the 1950s by Cornell University, this is the most common note taking method around. In fact, the outline method is likely inspired by this method as there are similarities to it.

In this method, you are still using key points, but this method goes deeper into the organizing method. For one, the page is broken into three sections:

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  • a narrow column called the “cue”
  • a wider column for your actual notes
  • a summary at the bottom

The cue section is the section where you fill out main points, people, potential test questions and more. This section is devoted to helping you recall larger topics and ideas.

The note section is devoted to expanding and explaining those cue points. You still want to summarize them to an extent using headings. When getting into specifics, you want to indent them and use a numbering system, either roman numerals, numbers, or letters.

The summary section is the section you write up at the end summarizing all of the information in a clear sentence or two. You want both the summary and the cue to be simple seeing as your notes are where you want all of the details.

Here’s an example illustrated by Comprehension Hart:[3]

    This method is great if you:

    • Want notes to be organized even further and easier to review.
    • Want to pull out major ideas and concepts quickly.

    3. Mind Mapping Method

    Mind mapping is a method that works for subjects that have interlocking topics or complex and abstract ideas. Chemistry, history, and philosophy are examples where this method shines.

    The use of the map is to serve as a visual aid for how every topic is related to one another. It also allows you to go into detail on particular ideas or topics. An example of this at work is looking at the French Revolution.

    First, you’d start with that concept at the center and then begin branching off that led to events, and people that sparked the French Revolution.

    You can start off with broad general ideas and during the course or when you are reviewing, you can add in sub-concepts to those branches. Things like dates, support facts, concepts that you see between people and events.

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    That being said, this method doesn’t apply to  only those kinds of topics. Any kind of topic that you can break into various points can also help as well. Another example can be talking about different forms of learning and using the nodes to discuss each method and what each one is like.

    Learn more about this method here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    This type of method for note taking is great for:

    • Visual learners who struggle with studying via notes.
    • For people who need to remember and connect relationships, and events with topics.

    4. Flow Notes Method

    Discussed in a post in College Info Geek,[4] this method is for those who want to maximize active learning in the classroom and save time in reviewing.

    The idea of flow notes is to treat yourself as a student rather than transcribing word for word. In this method, you’ll jot down topics, then start drawing arrows, make doodles, diagrams and graphs to get a general idea out there.

    This method also helps in drawing other bridges and form connections in various fields or within the subject. If some information reminds you of another piece of information or technique, make a note and jot it down.

    Take a look at this video to learn a bit more about this method:

    The only catch with this method is that while it’s great for learning at that moment, you may have a tough time reviewing them later. You may want to pair this method with another method mentioned above.

    5. The Sentence Method

    Another simple method and is a lesser version of flow notes. The idea with this is a simple note-taking. You’re jotting down everything that’s being said to the best of your ability. It’s genuine transcription at it’s finest.

    The problem with this method is that it can be tough to keep up with everything else that’s happening. If you’re writing notes by hand, you will definitely be missing key points and ideas. On a computer, you may be able to keep up, however, you may face challenges still.

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    Despite those problems, there are still advantages to this method. Compared to every other method, this provides the most details and information for review:

    • You can still be brief by covering the main points.
    • Your notes are already simplified for you to study and review them immediately.

    6. Charting Method

    Charting notes take the Cornell method and divide a sheet into three columns. Similar to the mind mapping method, this helps you in connecting relationships and facts together between topics.

    This method is a lazier method than the other ones mentioned above but works for the people who want to highlight key pieces of information on various topics and want to organize facts for easy review.

    7. Writing on Slides

    The final method is another strategy for people who can’t be bothered to take extensive notes. This method works well particularly in classes where the instructor provides slides that they’re using for their lectures.

    Whether it’s a handout or you can download them online, all you need to do is print them off and start writing away on them.

    This method is great because it removes a lot of the worry of taking general notes. Since ideas and concepts are already discussed, it’s a matter of expanding those notes already.

    What Note Taking Techniques Are the Best?

    As you may have noticed, each method is good in its own situation. Depending on what you’re learning – and your own preferences – each method has advantages.

    It’s also worth noting that every person learns and studies in a different manner. With this in mind, consider how you study and figure out the method that best compliments it.

    More About Learning Fast

    Featured photo credit: JESHOOTS.COM via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

    5 Proven Memorization Techniques to Make the Most of Your Memory

    Do you forget stuff every now and then? Are you trying to enhance your memory but not sure how?

    All you need is the right memorization techniques to make the most of your memory.

    The human brain is fascinating. More specifically, the vast interconnections within our mind. Mendel Kaelen compares the human brain to a hill covered in snow,

    “Think of the brain as a hill covered in snow, and thoughts as sleds gliding down that hill. As one sled after another goes down the hill a small number of main trails will appear in the snow. And every time a new sled goes down, it will be drawn into preexisting trails, almost like a magnet. In time it becomes more and more difficulty to glide down the hill on any other path or in a different direction.”

    The intent of Kaelen’s discussion is to think of new ways to temporarily flatten the snow. Kaelen remarked,

    “The deeply worn trails disappear, and suddenly the sled can go in other directions, exploring new landscapes and, literally, creating new pathways.”

    The idea here is to temporarily rewire your brain, or as Michael Pollan remarked in How to Change Your Mind,

    “The power to shake the snow globe, disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility-entropy-in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly settles.”

    So, how can we rewire our brain allowing deeply worn connections to disappear and new connections to form? The answer is quite simple. We must change the way we store information in our mind.

      Let’s examine 5 specific memorization techniques that will change the way you think and remember information.

      1. Build a Memory Palace

        What is it?

        The method of loci[1] (aka memory palace) is a method of memory enhancement using visualizations with the use of spatial memory. It uses familiar information about your environment to quickly recall information. It is a method that was discussed by Cicero in an ancient dialogue called De Oratore.

        How to use it?

        Ron White discusses in How to Memorize Fast and Easily: Build a Memory Palace, that it’s essentially a room or building that you have memorized and you use locations in the room to store data. Ron informs us,

        “You memorize locations in a room and then you later go back to those locations to retrieve the data that you want to remember.”

        Example

        An easy 5-step example, in the form of a Wiki, can be found at Artofmemory.com. Let’s examine the the steps:

        • Step 1. Choose a place that you know well. For example, your house or office.
        • Step 2. Plan the route and pick specific locations in your route. For example, your front door, bathroom kitchen, etc.
        • Step 3. Decide what you want to memorize. For example, geography, list of items, answers for a test, etc.
        • Step 4. Place one or two items, with a mental image, and place them in your memory palace. Exaggerate your images. For example, use nudity or crazy images forcing it to stick in your mind.
        • Step 5. Make the image into a mnemonic.

        You can learn more about this technique here: How to Build a Memory Palace to Remember More of Everything

        2. Mnemonic

          What is it?

          A mnemonic is a memory device that aids in retention and/or retrieval of information. Mnemonic systems are techniques consciously used to improve memory by helping us use information already stored in long-term memory to make memorization easier.[2]

          How to use it?

          Mnemonics make use of retrieval cues to encode information in our brain allowing for efficient storage and retrieval of the information. The trick is to learn how to easily create mnemonics. If you find that you struggle with creating your own, try the following website: Mnemonic Generator.

          Example

          I recently came across a video using mnemonics to memorize countries. Memorizing Countries using Mnemonics is a video created as an introduction to a class for using memory techniques to learn the names of countries on maps.

          I actively search for videos that provide enormous educational value, yet receive very little exposure. At the time of this writing, this video has received less than 4k views. Let’s examine the video.

          Goal: Create a mnemonic to memorize the countries in the Caribbean (just the countries you need to learn).

          Step 1. Looking at a map – write out each country (for which five were chosen).

          Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico.

          Step 2. Write the first letter of each country vertically.

          C

          J

          H

          D

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          P

          Step 3. Create a sentence or phrase.

          Cubs

          Just

          Hate

          Doing

          Push-ups

          Cubs just hate doing push-ups. (Cuba Jamaica Haiti Dominican Republic Puerto Rico)

          3. Mnemonic Peg System

            What is it?

            According to Artofmemory.com, a mnemonic peg system is a technique for memorizing lists and it works by memorizing a list of words that are easy to associate with the numbers they represent.[3] These objects are the pegs of the system.

            How to use it?

            The trick is to create a Number Rhyme System with each number having a rhyming mnemonic keyword.

            Example

            Let’s look at an example of a Number Rhyme System:[4]

            0 = hero

            1 = gun

            2 = shoe

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            3 = tree

            4 = door

            5 = hive

            6 = sticks

            7 = heaven

            8 = gate

            9 = line

            Another technique like the Peg system is the Number Shape System.[5] Here you are assigning mnemonic images based on the shape of the number. Watch the following video for an example of this system: Number Shape System for Memorizing Numbers.

            4. Chunking

              What is it?

              Chunking is a way to remember large bits of information by chunking them into smaller pieces of information. We are more likely to then remember the information when we put the small pieces back together to see the entire picture.

              How to use it?

              In the video Chunking – A Learning Technique, we can see that there are several ways to chunk information.

              Example

              Let’s examine a simple example using a nine-digit number.

              Step 1. What is the number you are trying to remember?

              081127882

              Step 2. Cut the number into smaller pieces through chunking.

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              081 – 127 – 882

              Let’s look at one more example from the same video.

              “Piano teachers will first demonstrate an entire song to students. They will then ask their students to practice one measure at a time. Once the part has been learned and the neural connections in the brain have been built, then students go on to the next measure. After all chunks have been played separately, they are combined until the entire piece is connected.”

              5. Transfer of Learning

                What is it?

                Transfer of learning is a way to learn something in one area and apply it in another. Authors of Thinking at Every Desk, Derek and Laura Cabrera inform us about the transfer of learning,

                “If a student has a high transfer skills, she can learn one thing and then teach herself 10, 50, or 100 additional things.”

                How to use it?

                There are two specific ways to use it:

                1. Vertical Transfer (aka Far Transfer). Think of learning something in grade school and applying it another grade or later in life.
                2. Horizontal Transfer (aka Near Transfer). Think of learning a concept in history and applying it in math.

                Example

                I provide a detailed step-by-step example for this technique in this article:

                Learn How to Learn: How to Understand and Connect Difficult Ideas Easily

                The Bottom Line

                The key to using the techniques discussed here is to remember that we must actively think about information.

                We cannot simply drill information into our brain through rote memorization. We must change the way we think about memorization. We must find a way to “shake the snow-globe” in our mind or flatten the snow so that we can create new learning paths.

                Or as Derek and Laura Cabrera point out, we must insert “Thinking” into the equation,

                “Information X Thinking = Knowledge”

                More About Enhancing Memories

                Featured photo credit: Nong Vang via unsplash.com

                Reference

                [1] Remember Everything: Memory Palaces and the Method of Loci
                [2] The Learning Center Exchange: 9 Types of Mnemonics for Better Memory
                [3] Art of Memory: Mnemonic Peg System
                [4] Art of Memory: Number Rhyme System
                [5] Art of Memory: Number Shape System

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