The Best Way to Take Notes May Surprise You

Taking Notes

In this electronic age, technology seems to make everything easier, but when it comes to the classroom, it may be hurting students.

A recent study shows that writing out your notes is more effective than taking notes on laptops, with students being able to retain information better if they write it out. While typing out notes may be faster, taking notes by hand requires listening and processing the information.

So what are some of the best ways to take notes? Here’s a look at a few writing methods.

The Outline Approach
Main ideas get assigned with Roman Numerals (e.g., I, II, III), sub-sections get assigned with capital letters (e.g., A, B, C), and anything below that gets assigned numbers followed by lowercase letters. This allows students to organize their thoughts and be able to return to concepts in a quick manner.

Leave Out What You Can
An important style of note-taking is just making everything as concise as possible. If a professor or teacher discusses the speed of sound faster than the speed of light, students may want to consider shortening phrases in order to get all of the content down. Ways to do this include:

  • Using only the first syllable of a word (“comm” for “communication”)
  • Eliminating final letters, just enough that you can recognize the word (“min” for “minimum”)
  • Excluding vowels, including just the base of the word (“bkgd” for “background”)
  • Placing an apostrophe in place of letters (“cont’d” for “continued”)
  • Leaving out unimportant words or definite articles like “the” and “a”
  • Using “g” to represent “ing” (“incg” for “increasing”)
  • Utilizing math symbols (“=” for “equals”)

If you have your own language for note-taking (f = “fact”), you may even want to include an answer key for abbreviations at the top of the page so you can remember your thought process.

In addition to abbreviations, students may also want to leave out particular ideas. Focus on writing down key concepts and phrases, but if there’s something an instructor mentions that a student already knows, they shouldn’t bother writing down that fact (but they may want to at least write down the idea to remind themselves of how this may relate to other concepts mentioned).

For optical learners, the mind map may be for them, as it visually organizes concepts and information. Students start out in the middle of a blank sheet of paper, which is where they write the lecture’s main topic. As new topics come about, a note-taker will include a branch followed by the sub-topic. It’s kind of like a family tree—only for study notes.

Mind Map

Cornell Notes
This method of note-taking developed by (big surprise) a Cornell University professor involves dividing a sheet of paper into three different sections: the biggest section for the actual notes (any style), the skinny column on the side for questions that come up during the notes (or maybe even possible questions that may be on the test), and the bottom section for a two- to three-sentence summary of the notes.

Take Notes: Cornell Method

The Bottom Line
When it comes to handwritten notes, students need to figure out what works best for them, so trying the above methods (or maybe even experimenting with a few of their own) are good ways to figure out what works.