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How to Improve your Note Taking Skills


The Importance of Effective Note Taking

If you're struggling to remember concepts and to gain a good understanding of the topics you're trying to learn, it could be down to your ineffective note take skills.

If your notes are unstructured and messy, then it's going to be incredibly hard to make sense of them at a later date and even harder to learn from then.

Effective Note Taking

On the flip side if your able to take effective notes than you'll be able to reap future benefits such as:

  • Increasing the likelihood that you remember your notes in the long term - By being able to constantly refer back to your notes, the likelihood of you remembering ideas and concepts increases
  • Being more organised - If you're taking notes effectively, you'll know exactly where to find certain bits of information
  • Necessary information is simplified - If you're taking notes effectively, you'll be able to walk the line between writing down only what's necessary and writing enough to gain a good understanding of the topic 

Through effective note taking, not only will it help you in the future (as shown above) but it will also help you in the present moment. Effective note taking can help you in the present moment through the following ways:

  • It ensures you are paying close attention to the topic. Whether you're reading a textbook or listening to a lecturer, effective note taking ensures you are really concentrating on the subject at hand
  • It ensures you're constantly filtering the topic's information - When you're taking notes effectively, you're constantly thinking about what's important and what's not. Actively thinking about the topic at hand, increases the likelihood that you'll remember it
  • It helps you to make new mental connections - By properly organising your notes and highlighting key ideas, you're able to associate your notes to each other and make mental trains of thoughts. 

Different Note Taking Methods

There isn't one set method to take notes effectively, in fact there are quite a few systems that work for different people. Some of the most popular note taking methods are laid out below. 

Method #1: Mapping

What is it

Mapping is a style of note taking more suitable for visual learners. It involves sorting your notes into a sort of diagram where you can easily identify the relationship between topics and any key information about the topic.

Effective Note Taking

How to implement the Mapping Method

1. Begin with a headline for the main topic

2. Branch off with different subheadings

3. Write any important information under the appropriate section

4. Keep branching off with different subheadings and notes until you're satisfied

Advantages

  • Can be highly effective for visual learners as they can see the links between different topics
  • Helps you to make connections when writing down notes.

Disadvantages

  • Can take longer than regular note taking
  • Can hold less information due to the structure of the map
  • Looks unprofessional and messy

Method #2: The Cornell Method

What is it

Created by Professor Walter Pauk of Cornell University in the 1950s, the Cornell method is a note taking system which provides an organised structure for taking notes. 

Effective Note Taking

How to use it

The Cornell method involves dividing your page into the 4 separate sections. 

  • The Title of your chosen topic at the top of the page
  • A narrow column on the left of the page for any questions that you have whilst learning 
  • A larger column on the right of the page for taking notes on your chosen topic
  • A section at the bottom of the page for summarising what you have learnt

Advantages 

  • It encourages you to reflect on your notes, therefore increasing the likelihood of you remembering your notes
  • It also encourages you to seek further learning by having a section for any questions you have on the topic

Disadvantages

  • As it is writing-heavy, it may be disadvantageous for more visual learners as there is no use of diagrams or images.

Method #3: The Sentence Method

What it is

This is perhaps the most simplistic form of note taking. This is the best form of notetaking when the information is coming thick and fast at you. Therefore, it is incredibly effective for fast paced lectures.

Effective Note Taking

How to use it

The sentence method involves merely writing every new idea/thought/concept on a new line. You can choose to number your lines as you go to help you to refer back to them at the end of the session. The simplicity of this method allows you to take notes at an incredible pace; ideal for when you're in a rush.

Advantages 

  • As previously mentioned, allows you to take notes at an incredible pace

Disadvantages

  • Less organised and structured than other methods
  • Can be difficult to reflect upon
  • Can be difficult to make connections and links with other information

Method #4: The Outlining Method

What is it

The Outlining method utilises a system of various headings, subheadings and bullet points to allow you to take notes in detail and cover every aspect of the topic. 

Effective Note Taking

How to use it

  1. Begin with a heading. I.e the main topic
  2. Indent a subheading slightly to the right
  3. Take notes about the subheading and indent them slightly to the right of the subheading
  4. Indent the next subheading and continue the process

Advantages

  • Allows you to clearly structure your notes
  • Allows you to go into as much detail as you want
  • It's easy to see the relationships between topics

Disadvantages

  • Can take more time if you're going into more detail
  • Again, it may be less than optimal for visual learners

Conclusion

I hope that this guide on effective note taking will inspire you to pay more attention to how you take your notes; and hopefully you'll find yourself remembering more and gaining a better understanding of the topic you're attempting to learn. Good luck!

 

 

 

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