Taking notes can be an art, and Printing Report is here to help you out.

Research has shown that many people believe the physical act of writing something down actively helps them remember things. What’s more, good notetaking will also help enormously at exam time.

There are several different well-recognised approaches to notetaking. The key is to find the approach – or combination of approaches – that works for you.

Why take notes in class?

Effective notetaking has a number of benefits:

  • Encourages active listening
  • Helps learners to engage with the content as they consider what is important to write down
  • Provides an opportunity to make and jot down connections, comparisons and thoughts about the topic
  • Helps reduce the stress of tests since you will have quality material to review.

What notetaking methods are effective?

Different learners will find they are more comfortable with different notetaking styles. For example, the mapping method is particularly helpful for visual learners.

Let’s consider some of the key notetaking styles.

1. Traditional notetaking

Most learners who take notes will simply aim to capture as much as possible of what is said during the lecture. This is great if you are a quick writer, but isn’t so great when you come to refer back to your notes later. Organising your notes using one of the other following methods may be more useful in the long term.

2. Outlining method

One simple way to organise your notes is to use bullet points. This helps to keep notes in a more organised fashion that is easier to refer back to later. It also makes it easier to see the relationship between topics and their subtopics. It does require a certain amount of knowledge of the material in order to make judgements about how to structure the bulleted notes.

3. Mapping method

Mind mapping is a well-recognised tool in the office environment, especially useful for brainstorming and taking notes in meetings. However, this type of flow-based notetaking offers advantages for students too. It is great for visual learners.

Notetakers will need to play a more active role; making connections between items as they are written down. This method also provides space to make connections with earlier points and add your own thoughts too. However, because you need to feel confident organising and rewriting the material, it can be hard to pull off when you are completely unfamiliar with the subject.´

4. Cornell method

The Cornell notetaking technique was designed for taking notes in lectures. It helps learners by specifying a format whereby learners can record the main notes, post-class “cues” and a summary at the bottom of the page.

You’ll need to split the page into three sections: a 5cm margin on the left where you can add questions and prompts (your “cues” for further work) after the class; a 5cm section at the bottom where you write a summary after the class; the remainder of the page is the main notes section where you write the notes you take in class.

This approach encourages reflection and review, so it is good for ensuring the content sticks with you. The Cornell method is also great for organising your thoughts and really comes into its own when it’s time to revise.

5. Charting method

The charting method of notetaking is another approach to notetaking which requires notetakers to split the page. This time, you split the page into vertical columns with each column relating to a different topic. This method is particularly helpful when you are comparing different but similar things.

6. A combination of approaches

It may be that you find one of these notetaking approaches suits you more than the others. If this is the case, it is worth sticking to the approach that works for you.

However, you might well find that a combination of these approaches is more valuable – switching between mind mapping to represent complex relationships and charting for a comparison of key features of different items, for example.

Tips for better notetaking

Whatever method you prefer to use, there are several tips that are worth bearing in mind to improve your notetaking.

  • Keep handwriting legible
  • If your handwriting isn’t great, write your notes up again later after class while they are still clear in your memory
  • Don’t aim to write everything down; stick to the important facts
  • If you use abbreviations in your notes, make a note of them at the top of the page so you don’t forget what you meant
  • Keep notes well organised so it is easy to refer back to them later

Now you have a good overview of different notetaking techniques, discover the benefits of using paper.