Note taking methods

Note taking methods: strategies and examples

Good note taking methods are essential for university students.  This is because note taking is one of the most important activities and skill-sets in all of a students university study life.  Wait, wow – a question already?

Alright, fair enough – it is a big claim.  Well, there are a lot of reasons for us saying this.  Why don’t we start with a question of our own…

Why do we take notes?

There are lots of reasons to take notes – but let’s just focus on the most important one for now:  we take notes to help us remember important information, right? We’re kind’ve having a conversation with our future selves about what we read that day with that important journal articles and/or heard that day in that critical lecture.  So that’s why – because taking effective notes will help you remember information that might otherwise get lost or forgotten.

And we’ve all had the one key fact that we just … couldn’t … quite … remember for an important test, right?

But taking notes isn’t as easy as it initially sounds.  After all, if you’re taking notes well, you’re summarising key ideas into your own words – preferably as few as possible and probably under time pressure.

So why is this important?  Well, this is one of the things that makes the difference between a stressed student and a relaxed student – or an average student and a successful student.  Why? Because

Most successful students have effective note taking methods

Effective note taking methods  will help Ss to prepare before reading a book, listening to a lecture, etc. and will help them to review key ideas after.

Beyond that, students with  effective note taking strategies/skills  will:

  • be more focussed while reading and/or in a lecture
  • be more organised after reading and/or in a lecture  (when reviewing notes for an assignment or preparing for exams) and throughout this whole time, they’ll 
  • feel less stressed.  Because they have a plan and they know what they’re doing.

Now there are any number of different ways of organising notes – Cornell is one famous system, Boxing is another, Mind Maps yet another.   Not one of these perfect for everyone – after all, everyone’s brain works a bit differently.  We go into these different types of note taking methodologies in our lesson on Effective Note Taking lesson.  This is a key part of our Academic Study Skills course – which, if you want to enrol in, you can hit the ‘Enrol in a course’ button now!

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But if you’re still here and keen to get the basics today, we’re going to look at the two main features of effective note taking methods: symbols and formatting.

Note taking methods: symbols and formatting

There are two key elements that we’re going to cover here: symbols and formatting.  Firstly, we’ll begin with symbols

Note taking method 1: symbols

So what are symbols?  There’s a very chance good chance you already use some of these.  Symbols are small pictures or shortened words that we use to write information fast!  

For example – how many letters are there in the phrase “for example”?  10, right? Compare it with “e.g.”. Same meaning – much fewer letters, therefore much faster to write.  

And that word “therefore” – you could write that or you could just do this instead:

There are many different kinds of symbols you can use.  Below is a short list of a few of the most common that you might recognise.  

However, it is key when using symbols that they are ones that you know – and will know in a week, or a month.  There is nothing more frustrating than finding a key page of your own notes – that you know is important – that you can’t understand.   Like this poor guy here…

But as useful as all these symbols are, if they’re just dumped anywhere on the page, it’s a lot less useful than if they’re well-organised.  The key to organising your notes is effective formatting. 

Note taking method 2: formatting

Formatting in this case refers to how you organise your notes on the page.  This includes a range of different things including but not limited to headings, colour, bullet points, and the use of space.

Headings (and colour)

You may have noticed that these HeadStart blog posts (and our awesome lessons) have pretty consistent headings systems.  Normally, the fonts for headings are different sizes (and sometimes different colours) to the rest of the text.  This is because your brain loves colour.  The human mind constantly looks for patterns – and consistent patterns of size and colour to show importance (like with headings) can really help improve your note taking.  For example, let’s say you are skimming through a book of notes looking for particular information and all your headings are in red. In this case you don’t need to read everything on a page – just look for red writing and you know what the page(s) are about.

Bullet points

  • Bullet
    • Points
      • Are
        • Awesome!

This is because you can break up ideas into different elements, show hierarchy (i.e., different levels of importance within an idea), use key words instead of long sentences…. Bullet points are a key note making methodology.

The use of space

And finally, using space on the page.  This is perhaps best demonstrated through an example.  So let’s turn to one now… a note making example.

Note making examples

Why did we write note making here instead of note taking?  Fair question – no it’s not a mistake – some people talk about making notes – we just wanted to make them (you?) feel comfortable.  🙂

We love TED-Ed.  It is an absolutely fantastic resource for lecture listening practice – especially for students who aren’t confident with their lecture listening skills.  We love it so much it’s the first entry on our hugely popular lecture listening practice resource blog post (shared over 400 times so there must be something good there!).  What’s more we recommend it as practice with our lecture listening course.

Anyway, why are we talking about this?  Because we’d like to invite you to watch a TED-Ed video now – to practice a few of the things we’ve looked at today.

The video we have in mind is a great one – titled How playing an instrument benefits your brain

What we’d like you to do is to watch (once or twice – up to you) and take notes as you go.  Then, when you’re finished – scroll down and have a look at the sample notes below. Compare your notes with the ones below and look for differences.  As you do, bear in mind that these are not perfect notes – but they do include a range of the things that we’ve looked at today.

Okay?  Enjoy!

When you’ve watched the video and you’re ready to check your notes, scroll down…  

Here you go!  Now, we’re not saying these are perfect notes – but there’s definitely a number of lessons we can draw from them.  And that’s what we’re going to when you’re ready.  So check your notes, compare them to these, and when you’re ready to continue – scroll down!

Note taking example: space

So regarding space – do you see how there are six main points?  There are two ways you’ll know this – either the bullet points or the blank space (i.e., line) after each bullet point.  This is what we mean by using space as part of your note taking process.  It helps for clarity and breaking your notes up in meaningful chunks. After all, your brain loves patterns!  

If you want to learn more about note taking methods, get practice with note taking (or making) examples, and useful takeaways like note taking methods pdfs – hit Enrol In A Course now!

Master Academic Study Skills today

Academic success is just a click away

Otherwise, that’s us for our HeadStart Guide on note taking methods  – we hope it’s been useful! As always, we’d love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments – write us a post below or follow us on Facebook.   Or, if you want to get more of these blog posts straight to your inbox – join our mailing list.  Or if you have a question or a topic that you’d like us to write a blog post (or even better – a full lesson) about – email us!  We read every email.

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