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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes effectively.

I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

And if you focus on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

What to Write Down

Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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1. Dates of Events

Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

2. Names of People

Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

3. Theories or Frameworks

Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

4. Definitions

Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

5. Arguments and Debates

Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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6. Images

Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

7. Other Stuff

Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

8. Your Own Questions

Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

1. Outlining

Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

2. Mind-Mapping

For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

Here’s the idea:

In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

3. The Cornell System

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.[1]

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About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

The Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

More Note-Taking Tips

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Cornell University: The Cornell Note Taking System

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The Science of Setting Goals (And Its Effect on Your Brain) How To Stop Procrastinating and Get Stuff Done How to Become Self-Taught the Easy Way (The How-to Guide) 3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

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Last Updated on June 1, 2021

How to Use the Learning Style Quiz to Accelerate Your Learning

How to Use the Learning Style Quiz to Accelerate Your Learning

If you’ve ever taken a learning style quiz, you know that the idea is to find your most prominent learning style. The question then becomes: what do you do with that information?

A textbook definition of learning styles is:[1]

“Characteristic cognitive, effective, and psycho-social behaviors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the learning environment.”

That’s a fancy way of saying that different individuals interact with their learning environment in different ways. You’ll often see learning styles in conjunction with higher education and other types of cognitive learning courses. The theory is that, if the teacher is aware of the various ways in which people perceive information, they can differentiate the instruction to meet those needs.

To the casual learner, understanding your learning style can help you find the best way to learn new information. There are seven different learning styles, and everybody uses a little of each one (on a sliding scale).

In this article we will talk about how many different learning styles there are (and what they mean), get you to try the learning style quiz, and find out how to use your specific learning style to improve your life.

The 7 Learning Styles

The following is an overview of the various learning styles[2]:

1. Visual / Spatial

A visual learner thinks in pictures. They prefer having illustrations, pictures, and other types of images to help form a mental image of what they are learning. Visual learners are typically spatial thinkers.

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2. Aural / Auditory-Musical

An aural learner learns through music and rhythm. While actual music isn’t necessarily required to reach an aural learner, it certainly is more effective.

3. Verbal / Linguistic

A verbal learner prefers using words, both in speech and in reading. A person with this learning style might prefer a good lecture or textbook to more visual and auditory styles.

4. Physical / Kinesthetic

A physical learner prefers using their body, hands, and sense of touch. A person with this learning style is more of a “hands-on” learner who prefers to learn by doing.

5. Logical / Mathematical

A logical learner prefers information to flow from one thought or idea to the next. A person with this learning style prefers mathematics, logic, and reasoning.

6. Social / Interpersonal

A social learner prefers to learn in groups or through social interaction. A person with this learning style usually prefers group-work and project-based learning.

7. Solitary / Intrapersonal

A solitary learner prefers to work alone. People with this learning style are great at teaching themselves and often prefer self-study and online courses to more traditional learning methods.

Did you see yourself in more than one learning style? If so, then you understand that no one person has just one learning style. Each of the above styles exist in everybody to a certain degree.

If you take a learning style quiz, you might see a certain style emerge as the strongest (and, thus, more preferred). However, that does not mean that person cannot learn in one of the other ways listed.

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Learning Styles and the Brain

Learning styles influence and guide the way you learn. They affect the way you internally represent your experiences, remember information, or even dictate the words you choose[3].

Learning style quiz: Dunn & Dunn learning styles brain map [Source: Kos, (2017)]

     

    Research suggests that each learning style makes use of a different part of the brain. Here is the breakdown for each learning style:

    • Visual: Visual learners use the occipital and parietal lobes at the back of the brain.
    • Aural: Aural content is mostly processed through the temporal lobes (especially the right temporal lobe for music).
    • Verbal: Verbal content is processed through the temporal and frontal lobes.
    • Kinesthetic: Kinesthetic learning is processed using the cerebellum and the motor cortex.
    • Logical: Logical learning is processed through the parietal lobes (specifically using the left side of the brain as it pertains to logical thinking).
    • Social: Social learning happens in the frontal and temporal lobes.

    How to Use the Learning Style Quiz to Improve Your Life

    Perhaps you didn’t realize that people had different learning styles before you read this article. Maybe you already knew about learning styles.

    Whatever the case, you can learn a lot about yourself just by taking a short learning styles quiz. But what do you do with the knowledge you get from the results?

    Here are some tips:

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    Visual Learner

    If you’re a visual learner, focus on how you can make the material you’re learning more visually appealing[4].

    1. Stay Organized

    If a learning style quiz tells you you’re a visual learner, focus on getting your material organized. Your brain will likely feel overwhelmed if your notes are chaotic.

    2. Use Color

    Try color coding information in order to help your mind visually separate each bit. For example, if you’re studying for a history test, highlight dates in yellow, people in blue, and places in pink. This technique will set important pieces of information off in your mind and make them easier to remember.

    3. Watch Videos

    Ditch the audio-books and podcasts and either read or watch videos and lectures online. Your strength is found in visual explanation — seeing the information in a book, diagram, or demonstration.

    Auditory Learner

    If you’re an auditory learner according to your learning style quiz, focus on using your ability to hear to take in information[5].

    1. Limit Distracting Noises

    Traffic outside your window, students speaking nearby, or music blaring from a speaker won’t help you while studying. You’re already prone to take in the sounds around you, so if you want to learn something specific, find a quiet place to work where you can limit distracting noises.

    2. Read Aloud

    If you’ve taken notes in class, try reading them aloud to yourself. You can even create jingles or rhymes to help you remember specific bits of information.

    3. Record Lectures

    Instead of just simply writing notes as your professor or boss speaks, record the lecture or conversation and listen back later. This will help solidify the information with aural cues. Also, try speaking with classmates or coworkers to help “fill in” the information.

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    Kinesthetic Learners

    Your learning style quiz tells you that you’re a kinesthetic learner. Here are some study tips to help you[6].

    1. Teach Someone

    After you’ve studied the target information, try teaching it to someone else. This dynamic activity will help turn on your ability to recall the information.

    2. Be Hands-on

    Using your hands to create something will help your brain work through specific problems. If you need to remember 20 vocabulary words, try drawing a map and placing the words in specific places. This is related to the idea of a memory palace, which you can learn about here.

    Bonus tip: Try chewing gum, as the movement may help activate learning centers in your brain.

    3. Take Breaks

    As a kinesthetic learner, your mind won’t like being in one static position for very long. Take time to get up and walk around or do another physical activity for a few minutes between study sessions.

    Also be aware that most of the learning styles can fit into one of those three categories. You are essentially going to be one of these three types of learning styles paired with an interpersonal or intrapersonal preference. In other words, you either like working with others or you don’t.

    If you’re ready to take your learning to the next level with your learning style, check out the video below for some more tips and tricks:

    Final Thoughts

    Have you taken the learning style quiz yet? If not, scroll down this page a bit and try the quiz now!

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    If you spend just five to ten minutes on this quiz, it may give you insight into learning styles that will change your life.

    More on How to Use the Learning Style Quiz

    Featured photo credit: Eliabe Costa via unsplash.com

    Reference

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