Learning effective note-taking methods comes in handy, especially when it's time to study for exams. It may seem like nothing more than writing down what the professor says, but note taking can actually help you absorb the material and be prepared to ask important, clarifying questions. Before going to class, it’s critical to complete the assigned readings. Even if you aren’t able to get the reading done, taking notes will give you the overview and reading it later on can help fill in the information gaps. At the end of the day, be sure to re-read your notes or even highlight important content elements. If your professor emphasizes a particular topic or repeats an item, underline or highlight it. There isn’t one right way to take notes in college. Instead, try out different methods and choose the one that works best for you.
Outline the Chapter in Advance
If you prefer a traditional way of taking notes, consider trying the outline method. The best way to take notes using this method is to read the chapter prior to class. As you read the chapter, outline the key points. Leave plenty of room to fill in additional information. As the professor discusses the chapter in class, write down the key points that are covered. This note-taking approach will encourage you to read before class and allow you to highlight the content that is most important to the professor. After class, review the notes and underline anything that is confusing or requires additional clarification.
Try Splitting the Page
The split page method of note taking is ideal for test preparation. Begin by drawing a line down the page, about three inches from the left side. As you listen to the lecture, write down the key ideas shared by the professor and anything that is emphasized as a possible test question on the right side of the page. Use the left side of the page for questions about the material or questions that you may use to test yourself about the content. You can also create three columns and use one for your own notes about the chapter, one for the notes from the professor and one for questions. The advantage of the split page method is that it will serve as an instant study guide, when it comes time to prepare for an exam.
Use the Cornell Method
Some experts believe that the best way to take notes is to use the Cornell Method. Once again, you’ll begin by splitting the page with a vertical line that is about two and one half inches from the left side. Use the right side to write sentences that reflect the class lecture. After class, review the notes and develop corresponding questions. These questions should be noted on the left side of the page. Now, cover the left side of your notes with a piece of paper and ask yourself the questions that are listed on the right side. If you get stuck on an answer, move the page down to uncover the information.
Put Your Device to Work
If you’re wondering how to take good notes on a computer, there are a variety of free note taking software apps available. Zoho Notebook, Bear and Simplenote are just a few of the free apps that are available for a variety of platforms. Some note-taking apps will allow you to create a notebook for each class, share notes, make to do lists or add tags. Technology may be enticing, but be sure that you’re not distracted by social media alerts or the lure of messaging your friends while taking notes in class.
Boxing Method of Note Taking
If you’re a visual learner, the boxing style of taking notes may be the ideal choice. The foundation of this method is a piece of paper divided into two columns. Fill the columns with notes from the textbook and the in-class lecture content. After class, spend time drawing boxes around like concepts, grouping together the main points of interest. The process of analyzing the notes and determining how they should be grouped is a way to reinforce the information. You’ll also be able to more easily focus on one concept at a time, when you’re preparing for a test or quiz.
Make Connections With a Note-Taking Map
A different way to take notes is to create a visual map of the course content. Turn your piece of paper to create a horizontal orientation. In the middle of the page, list one main concept from the textbook or lecture material. Draw a circle around the main point. Brainstorm all of the related information and write each idea down, around the main point. Continue this creative process by brainstorming about each sub-idea. Add color and draw pictures to illustrate each piece of information. When you’re finished, you’ll have a map that illustrates what you learned from the lesson.
Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.