Top note-taking tips for students

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Note-taking is an essential learning skill that many students struggle with. If you are or have been a student, have you ever been given any direction on your note-taking? The chances are the answer is no. Unfortunately, many students aren’t even aware of what they should be taking notes of, and instead attempt to write everything down in their lectures – essentially these become minutes, which are not at all useful for reference or revision.

Tips for the best note-taking

To make sure you get the most out of your note taking, follow these tips:

Attend lectures and classes

Rule number one of note-taking is to attend your lectures in order to make your own notes. Borrowing your friend’s notes won’t do you much good if you weren’t in the class, as you’ll be relying 100 per cent on the notes and not using the recall part of your brain.

Prepare for your lectures

In addition to attending, you will make the best notes and get the most from your lectures if you prepare yourself beforehand by looking up the lecture topic and reading around the subject if you have time. This will prepare your mind and get you in the ‘zone’ for further learning.

Use colour

A proven method for improving your note-taking is colour-coding. Through the use of different coloured pens and inks, you can code your notes and make them far more useful for future reference, and also far more memorable. Don’t forget your highlighter, too!

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How to take notes

It is important to remember why we take notes in lectures and classes; notes are taken to help you study better. You need to ensure your notes function in this role – if they don’t, they are pointless! Keep your notes clear and concise, but don’t worry if they get a bit messy, you can always re-write them later on if need be.

What you should be making notes on

  • Think about what is new to you, and only write that down. For example, if you already know that the Battle of Hastings took place on 14th October 1066, that doesn’t need to go in your notes.
  • Only make notes of relevant points – depending on your area of study, these could be dates, events, names, definitions, information about theories, sides of a debate, methods, and so on.
  • Add your own questions to your notes as they crop up, which you can then investigate later.

Methods for note-taking

There is no one perfect note-taking method – different methods suit different people and situations. A few of the most popular methods are:

  • Outlining. This method uses headers and sub-headers, and then notes under all of these. This is basic but can be very effective. Use bullet points and shorthand to speed it up.
  • Mind mapping. This is a hierarchical method of visually organising information, which shows the relationships between various bits of data. Start in the middle of the page with the lecture topic, and build the mind map out as you go.
  • The Cornell Method. This system involves creating three sections on your page: a note-taking area for notes during the lecture, a cue column on the left for you to write questions for when testing your knowledge at a later date, and a summary section at the bottom of the page. You’ll be able to find a full explanation online for this method, and others.

If you’re not having success with your current note taking method, give another a try – there’s a method out there for everyone.

Lucy is our lead editor and has been passionate about stationery since childhood. She has a particular fondness for rollerball and calligraphy pens and is a keen advocate of snail mail.

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