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No “Write” Way: Finding a Note-Taking Style That Works for You

Published on February 24, 2017 by Tom Westover

Note taking is one of the most important practices that college students engage in during any given day. Listening to lectures, asking questions and participating in class, collaborating with peers, and other activities are also essential to the learning process, but note taking is how students really sort through and condense material to decide the important takeaways that they need to commit to memory for exams and for real life after graduation.

As a student, you likely have already developed a note-taking style that you currently use. Have you ever stopped to think about how you take notes? Have you ever discussed your note taking method with someone else? Note taking is a personal practice. Every student seated around you is engaged in his or her own version of note taking; no two people in the same class will have the same notes even if they sit through the same lectures day in and day out for an entire quarter. Because of the private nature of note taking, you may be missing out on note taking strategies that could work well for your learning style. No matter how well your current note-taking style seems to work, you may want to explore other note taking methods that your classmates are using.

First, take out a page of your notes, and glance over them to notice any patterns. Are your notes organized? Colorful? Neat? Sporadic? Being familiar with your current note-taking style will give you insight into the way you listen. Some students only jot down keywords their professors say that will remind them of key concepts in the lecture; other student write down fewer keywords, but find it extremely important to get down key concepts in the professor’s exact words. The way you learn will also influence the note-taking strategy that will work best for you.

If you have ever studied the art of note taking, it is likely that the oldest and most popular method, the Cornell Method, was discussed.  The Cornell Method was developed in the mid-1900s by a professor at the Ivy League Cornell University. This method is good for classes where the notes you will take are voluminous and will need to be synthesized, and where the concepts in the course link together.

In order to set up your page for note taking using the Cornell Method, draw a horizontal line on the page about one-fourth of the way from the bottom. Then, draw a vertical line about one-third of the way from the left-hand margin, stopping just as you intersect the horizontal line. You now how three boxes of varying sizes which will each be used to house different portions of your notes.

The wide box on the top right, the largest box, is going to be used to take the majority of your notes. This is where the general notes you normally take will be listed. You should avoid listing information word-for-word, and stick to your personal ideations of the information your professor is presenting.

In the narrow box on the top left, you will jot down key words or themes of the information that you are writing in the right column. You can also jot down questions that you may have about the material on the right that you need to address with your professor after class or in your reading. If you are a quick note taker, you may be able to complete the left-hand column during class as you complete the right; however, many users of this note taking method complete the left-hand column after class is over during review of the information in the right-hand column.

The final, long box at the bottom of the page will be utilized as you review your notes. You should use this area to summarize the information presented on the page. Feel free to add additional information to your summary, whether it is from your readings, class discussions, labs, or elsewhere.

Many people swear by the Cornell Method of note taking. The organization and natural review process that is built into this method make it a common choice among students.

Mind map note taking is the process by which you take notes the way that the information will later be stored in your memory. It works extremely well for visual learners and for learners with good memories who do not need lengthy notes to remember concepts that are covered during class and from reading. A mind map begins as a thought bubble with one word or concept inside. For example, the bubble may include the word “Deserts.” From there, you will draw connecting bubbles in a manner that show how these topics relate to the initial words. To expand on the previous example, you may have bubbles for “Cakes,” “Pies,” “Custards,” “Candies,” etc. You can add additional information about the relationship between each bubble on or around the lines that intersect each bubble.

Outlining works exceptionally well in situations where you are typing your notes electronically. Word-processing programs allow you to cut and paste information quickly and easily, so it becomes easy to sort the information you are gathering into an outline format. Just as the name of the method suggests, you will sort all of your notes into categories, subcategories, sub-subcategories, etc. Developing your outline key before you begin or using a template that is already stored on your computer can help you to move through this process efficiently.
With your new note taking strategy in mind, get prepared for your next class. Start with a clean notebook or clean document if you take notes electronically so that you can work on implementing your new method. Do not worry about getting the method exact the first time. Practice makes perfect. You may even discover that your new note taking method needs to be tweaked a little bit to work for you. Again, note taking is a personal practice, and there is no right way to take notes. As long as your notes provide you with the information you need to master the concepts you are presented in your classes so that you can achieve, you are taking notes in an effective way.

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The Broadview Bonus

We’re Accredited. Broadview University is nationally accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).