Note-Taking: The Ultimate Guide

By Marco Chase, Updated on Mon 23rd December 2019

Note-taking is essential for not only receiving but also comprehending information. There are multiple reasons why note taking benefits anyone taking in any form of knowledge. But the main benefit is the ability to recall an enormous amount of information that would be impossible to recall by heart. But there’s a technique to taking notes, it’s not as basic as just jotting everything you hear, it’s about summarising concepts in a brief but detail-rich format in your own words.

What are the methods of note-taking

1. Outline Method

What is it

The outline method is using bullet points and spacing to provide a structure to your notes.
It usually works like this:

  • This is the main topic
    • This is the subtopic
      • This is a thought/supporting fact
Why/When you should use it

This is highly recommended if you have to make notes on the fly like a shopping list. It helps you note down the main items/ideas without all the fluff.

how to maximise this technique

  • Don't write sentences for points, short phrases are easier to scan
  • Only use it for when you have to make notes within a short time span
  • Bold key points for easier scanning
  • Combine with the cornell method(down below) to make note taking really efficient but also easy to review
  • 2. Cornell Method

    What is it

    Cornell method is a more complex structure for note taking but very quick to do. You divide your page into 4 sections (1 optional) like in the picture below. The main section is used to make notes during the lecture, you write comments/questions next to the notes in the small side section. After you finish taking notes, summarise in the bottom short section. There is an optional title section, which would help u file notes better.

    Why/When you should use it

    This method, like the outline method, should be used in quick situations where you don't have a second to spare but also have a lot of content to go through. Naturally, it's highly recommended for uni students or anyone who needs to make quick notes but on a lot of information.

    how to maximise this technique
    • Have a title section so you can organise and file your notes
    • Download our cornell note taking template so you don't have to waste time in word drawing lines if you make notes digitally
    • Combine with outline method(up above) if you want to make your notes easy to review but also quicker to make

    3. Mapping Method

    What is it

    The mapping method, better known as mind-mapping or spider diagrams, is when you visually create branches for notes to create sub categories. You start with the main topic in the middle and draw lines from it going outward, u then write subtopics/notes on the end of those lines.

    Why/When you should use it

    This is highly recommended for people looking to create ideas or plan out a project. It is also good for when you are reviewing notes and want to link certain notes to each other in scannable format.

    how to maximise this technique
    • Use a sentences for the notes, but terms/phrases for subtopics and the main topic
    • Do not use it when making notes on the fly for live learning like lectures
    • Use it to review notes you made to help it stick in ur head and also visualise what notes you're missing

    4. Charting Method

    What is it

    The charting method is simply using columns to organize data. The column represents a category and at the top of the column is the label for the category.

    Why/When you should use it

    This is highly effective when you need to note down a lot of facts or points with a lot of categories. I can see history majors finding great use in this as it enables you to not only note down a lot of facts but emphasize relationships between similar facts

    How to Maximise this technique
    • Use this for distinct categories and not for categories that are very similar
    • Only use this for facts, the outline method is more effective for remembering methods and sub-categories
    • Make sure you rotate your paper so the long side is the width of the paper, this’ll ensure that you don’t have to squish your writing in narrow columns

    Read more about the Charting Method here.

    Tips/Techniques for maximising note-taking

    1. Write Phases, not full sentences

    Skip the fluff. It does not and will not help you retain or note take in any shape or form.
    Some of the benefits of using key phrases over full sentences:

    • Higher retention of the content you are making notes on
    • Requires less effort to do (this is important if you are making notes for a 2 hour lecture)
    • Is a lot quicker to do, which means you have more opportunities to write more notes that’ll be important later on

    2. Use your own words & abbreviations

    This’ll help skip a lot fluff and jargon that you won’t understand later on. Also using your own words means it’ll be quicker and easier to revise over your notes later, resulting in more free time to relax.

    3. Structure your notes with headings, subheadings and numbered lists

    You don’t have to do subheadings if the content you are making notes is not complex and deep; however it is imperative that you use headings and numbered lists.
    Some of the benefits you get are:

    • Easier to scan
    • Keeps notes in the right order
    • Notes look less overwhelming as big blocks of text are broken apart by short lists

    4. Mark your notes

    By marking we mean: highlighting, underlining, embolden, etc. By doing this you can emphasize notes that important, making them not only easy to find when you look for them but also helps retention.

    5. Handwrite your notes, don’t type

    I know, I know. This sounds crazy, especially since I said throughout this whole article tips/methods to speed up making notes but there’s always a bad to every good. Particularly for making note taking faster, it is usually harder to retain/comprehend the notes you make.

    Some methods above do help with this like the charter method or marking notes but when you write notes, you create a strong understanding of the hidden concepts behind the content. This is a lot harder to do when typing up notes as science has proven.