The Best Note-Taking Methods. For college students & serious… | by GoodNotes

The Best Note-Taking Methods. For college students & serious… | by GoodNotes

For college students & serious note-takers

Note-taking is one of the most important activities for students. There are a variety of reasons for it but we only want to highlight the most important one here: Taking notes will help you recall information that would otherwise be lost. But taking notes the right way isn’t as easy as it sounds. It isn’t simply about jotting down everything that you hear. Taking notes is about summarising core concepts as precisely as possible in your own words.

One thing that most successful students have in common is that they use a specific note-taking method. A note-taking method will help you to prepare before the lecture and to review key concepts after a class. It will help you to stay focused during the lecture to pay attention and actively participate. It will help you to organise your notes properly so that you don’t have to worry about losing the overview once you get back to them to prepare for an exam. In this article, we give an overview of the best note-taking methods for college students, on how to apply each and when you should (or shouldn’t) use one.

(Of course, this guide will also come in handy if you’re not a college student but want to improve the way you take your notes!)

Let’s dive in.

The Outline method is one of the best and most popular note-taking methods for college students. It lets you organize your notes in a structured form, helping you save a lot of time for further reviewing and editing. As the name suggests, this method requires you to structure your notes in form of an outline by using bullet points to represent different topics and their subtopics. Start writing main topics on the far left of the page and add related subtopic in bullet points below using indents.

When should you use this note-taking method

This method can be used in a variety of situations but works best if the lecture or class follows a relatively clear structure.

Pros

  • Highlights the key points of the lecture in a logical way
  • Ease of use allows the students to focus
  • Reduces the reviewing and editing time
  • Gives a proper and clean structure to your notes

Cons

  • Not suitable for subjects like chemistry and math that comprise of formulas and charts
  • Doesn’t work well if the attended lecture doesn’t follow a certain structure

We’ve written about the Cornell Method in one of our previous blog articles. It is a unique note-taking method that finds its application in a variety of situations. What differentiates it from other methods is the page layout. The page is divided into three or four sections starting from one row at the top for title and date (optional) and one at the bottom along with two columns in the center. 30% of width should be kept in the left column while the remaining 70% for the right column.

All notes from the class go into the main note-taking column. The smaller column on the left side is for comments, questions or hints about the actual notes. After the lecture, you should take a moment to summarise the main ideas of the page in the section at the bottom which will speed up your reviewing and studying process immensely. The best part is that many people already remember and digest the information while they write a summary like this.

When should you use this note-taking method

The Cornell method is ideal for all types of lectures or even meetings.

Pros

  • A quicker way to take, review, and organize your notes
  • Summarizes all the information in a systematic manner
  • Helps in effective learning as it enables to absorb information in a shorter time
  • Helps you to extract main ideas
  • Cuts down time for reviewing

Cons

  • Pages need to be prepared before a lecture
  • Requires some time for reviewing and summarising the key concepts

This method might be still widely unknown but gains increasing popularity. The term “Boxing Method” has been coined by one of our users, who has written about how she uses the method in a previous article on the GoodNotes blog. All notes that are related to each other are grouped together in a box. A dedicated box is assigned for each section of notes which cuts down the time needed for reading and reviewing.

From @ipadstudying on Instagram!

Digital note-taking apps for the iPad (like GoodNotes) are especially helpful for this method because content on the page can be reordered or resized subsequently. That way, you can just write down notes as you would normally do and then reorder them afterward to assign them to particular boxes. Digital note-taking also allows you to zoom in on the page, which helps to focus on one topic at a time during the review.

When should you use this note-taking method

This method works best if you have a class/session that is split into different sections that are still related in a sense.

Pros

  • Segregates and organizes your notes in the form of boxes
  • Let’s you focus on one box at a time while reading
  • Help you memorize the relation between notes in a visual way
  • Perfect for people that take notes on an iPad

Cons

  • Not suitable for every lecture type
  • Doesn’t work well if no overall topics can be assigned to a group of notes
  • Requires additional time to group the notes in the end or during the lecture

It is an ideal method for notes that involve a lot of information in theform of facts and statistics, that need to be learned by heart. The information will be organized in several columns, similar to a table or spreadsheet. Each column represents a unique category which makes the rows easily comparable. A great example of the charting method would be a summary of this article:

When should you use this note-taking method

This is also one of the most-effective note-taking methods for college students when it comes to jotting down heavy content which includes stats and other information. It also works great when you want to cut down on the amount of time you spend on editing and reviewing during test time. We suggest using the method when you need to memorize a lot of information but don’t recommend to apply it during classes or lectures. Creating charts with the charting methods takes time. It makes sense to use this method when summarising whole lectures as a preparation for exams or during intensive study sessions.

Pros

  • information is clearly structured
  • fantastic for reviewing
  • notes are easily comparable
  • a lot of information can be memorized rather quickly

Cons

  • Very time-consuming method
  • Barely makes sense to apply this method in a lecture/class where the content isn’t clear beforehand
  • doesn’t work for information that can’t easily be categorized

When the lecture content is intense, the mapping method works best. It helps organize your notes by dividing them into branches, enabling you to establish relationships between the topics. Start with writing the main topic at the top of the map. Keep dividing it into subtopics on the left and right as you go down.

When should you use this note-taking method

This technique works best when the lecture content is heavy and you need to organize it in a structured and easy form. It can also be used when you have no idea about the content of the lecture to be presented.

Pros

  • Visually appealing
  • Can be used for noting down detailed information but in a concise form
  • Allows easy editing of the notes

Cons

  • While mapping your notes, you might run out of space on a single page
  • Can be confusing if the information is wrongly placed while taking notes

Note-taking is a crucial part of every student’s life and the way you do it can have a great impact on your studies and results. If your notes are messy, it can be difficult to review them and find important information before tests and exams. Hope this article has helped you find the right method for you!

Curious about the app featured in this article?

GoodNotes is one of the most popular note-taking apps for handwritten notes on the iPad – especially amongst students. With GoodNotes you can:

  • Take handwritten notes and search them afterwards
  • Annotate your PDF or PowerPoint lecture slides or articles
  • Easily organize your notes into notebooks, folders, and keep everything synced across your iPad, Mac, and iPhone

Get GoodNotes today, and start taking more effective notes!

If you found this article helpful…

… be sure to follow the GoodNotes Blog to never miss one of our stories. We frequently publish tips and tricks about note-taking and paperless productivity in work, life, and learning.

If you prefer viewing over reading, follow us on Instagram, where we celebrate our users’ notes like the ones you see below.