Think of the last time you studied for a test, researched an article, or analyzed a big project. What did your process look like? Specifically, what was your note-taking strategy?
Were your notes easy to find in a notebook or organized in a file on your laptop? Or perhaps your desk was covered in papers and sticky notes, or your book was annotated in the margins.
If you didn't have a specific process or found it inefficient — or even worse, didn't take notes at all — you're not alone. Many learners, especially online, struggle with the discipline and art of taking good notes.
There's no one "right" way to take notes. But effective note-taking strategies can help you organize essential information and get the most out of the note-taking process. Let's explore seven of the best note-taking strategies and how you can use them to enhance the learning process.
Taking notes is an essential step in the learning process. A number of studies have concluded that taking notes positively impacts learning, making it easier to remember what was learned, integrate it, and use it in new situations.
Many formats and mediums are available for taking notes when learning. Depending on your learning style or ability to recall information, you may choose to handwrite notes, record them on a computer or audio device, or create visual notes.
Scholars have discovered that the optimal choice of medium often depends on how learning materials are presented. A recent study concluded that both drawing and writing stimulate neuronal oscillation patterns that are beneficial to learning, thereby promoting optimum learning conditions.
The notes themselves can vary as well, with several note-taking strategies available. You might use shorthand, write full sentences, fill in a chart, or draw doodles. Selecting the method that works best for you is key. Are you a visual learner? Do you prefer to type, or does doodling come naturally to you?
Understanding your particular situation can help you determine which note-taking method is most appropriate. To help you get started, take a look at these seven popular note-taking strategies.
The Outline Method is a note-taking strategy highlighted by its highly-organized and concise format. This note-taking method is excellent for those who want to keep it simple, linking points together and making connections.
To use the Outline Method, follow these steps:
The Outline Method is a great way to take notes because it forces you to be concise and organized. The method can be applied to many forms of learning, including lectures, online courses, and reading notes. It's a popular choice for nearly any subject, except for some science classes such as math or physics.
The Charting Method is another helpful note-taking strategy for those who like to be highly organized. This method's clearly structured format is excellent for taking notes on complex information and information that is presented quickly.
To use the Charting Method, follow these steps:
The Charting Method is a great visual note-taking method that can help you see an entire lesson in one big picture. The resulting document can be used as a study guide for memorizing facts and studying comparisons. The method can be used for reading notes, class discussions, or other learning activities.
The Mapping Method is a note-taking strategy that encourages active listening and participation. It's another suitable method for visual learners since it illustrates the learning material and makes connections between facts or ideas.
To use the Mapping Method, follow these steps:
The Mapping Method is excellent for creative and critical thinkers who want to explore and connect different ideas. This note-taking method can be used in any learning environment and is particularly helpful in situations where you don't know how the lecture will be presented. The note-taking format is optimal for a study guide — covering the lines is helpful for memory drills that aid retention.
The Sentence Method is a note-taking strategy that involves writing complete sentences for each point that you want to remember. You can't take notes as quickly with this method, but you can capture more information and provide a greater context for each topic.
To use the Sentence Method, follow these steps:
The Sentence Method is a terrific note-taking method for people who want complete context for each note. This format works best if you can write quickly and is often paired with digital note-taking since many people type faster than they write. This note-taking method can be used for any learning session where you can keep up, including reading, class discussions, and lecture notes.
The Cornell Note-Taking Method is a well-known strategy developed by Walter Pauk, a professor at Cornell University. This systematic note-taking method is designed to help you condense and organize your notes into using sections, resulting in a ready-to-use document for study.
To use the Cornell Method, follow these steps:
The Cornell Method is a useful way to take notes because it helps you organize information and thoughts in a ready-to-use study guide. This systematic method for recording and reviewing notes can be used for any type of learning, including lectures, online lessons, and reading notes.
Building a Second Brain is a personal knowledge management system developed by productivity consultant and educator Tiago Forte. Forte's system provides many valuable strategies for saving information and resources effectively. The result is a record of your learnings and their sources that can be used, reviewed, or deleted in the future — your "second brain."
This system contains many strategies broken into three parts — Remember, Connect, and Create. The first step focuses on "capturing" the ideas and insights you think are worth saving and can be applied to a note-taking strategy.
To use the Building a Second Brain method, follow these steps:
The Building a Second Brain method is an effective way to capture and build your personal knowledge library. The techniques found in this method can be used for many things other than study, such as brainstorming, problem-solving, and idea generation.
The Zettelkasten Method is a note-taking system developed by German sociologist and historian Niklas Luhmann. Using this approach, you capture notes and references individually and then combine them into a system of note cards called a "slip-box." This can help you build a personal knowledge network to improve your learning.
In his book, "How to Take Smart Notes," Sonke Ahrens details Luhmann's note-taking system as a vital component of his smart notes strategy. He describes the slip-box as an "external scaffold to think in" that helps our brains objectively store information.
To use the Zettelkasten and Smart Notes Method, follow these steps:
The Zettelkasten and Smart Notes Method is an incredible option for taking notes. By storing your ideas and references in one place, you will build a vital mass of ideas you can use indefinitely. Although detailed, it's pretty simple in action and makes future writing and learning take a fraction of the time.
When it comes to note-taking, there is no one-size-fits-all solution — finding what works for you is what's most important. Try out different note-taking strategies and see which ones work best for you. Whichever method you choose, make sure to use it consistently to see the most significant benefits.
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