“The most important factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows,” said David Ausubel. On the other hand, a 2004 study by Spies and Wilkin found that law students who read a legal case before arriving in class showed a greater understanding of learning materials than students who were not required to prepare before class. However, everyone has a slightly different way of learning and certain topics lend themselves to a different style. This influences the way you take notes especially at the time you have to develop your thesis. Below are some of the most popular techniques.

Structured: The scheme

This is for people who like simplicity. It’s one of the simplest ways to take notes and comes naturally to most people.

When taking notes in outline form, start by choosing four or five key points that will be covered in your class. Below those points, write down some deeper sub-points on each topic.

If you take notes by hand, make sure you leave enough space on each page to fit all the child points. You can also take them on your computer and rearrange them on the fly in the text document.

This is a great and simple way to take notes. It will help you follow and pay attention during class, but it can be overwhelming to review these notes later. To help you review these types of notes, try reading each main point and summarizing it yourself without looking at your notes too much. Use your notes to test yourself on how much you really know instead of just rereading them over and over again.

The Cornell Method

The Cornell method is a good way to split your notes if you want to make the most of your review time.

In this method, you divide your work into three sections: side notes, clues, and summary.

The side notes section is for the notes you take during the review of the material. You can structure them however you want, but most people like to use the schema method.

Write the notes section during or directly after class. This section can be filled with the main points, people or possible exam questions. Use this section to give yourself clues that help you remember the most important ideas.

You can write your summary section directly later when you’re reviewing your notes.

Make the track and summary sections as simple as possible. However, don’t hesitate to fill the notes section with doodles, diagrams, page references, and anything else you need to properly represent the material presented in class.

In Depth: The Mind Map

Mind mapping is a great way to take notes for certain types of topics. Topics such as chemistry, history, and philosophy that have interrelated themes or complex, abstract ideas are perfect for this method. Use the mind map to know how certain topics are related or to delve into a concrete idea.

For example, if you attend a class on the fall of the Roman Empire, start with that concept in the center and then draw “nodes” of all the things that led to the fall of Rome as your teacher lists them. Things like debt, irresponsible emperors, attacks by the surrounding barbarian tribes, etc.

Later, to review, go deeper and add small subconcepts to each branch. Things like dates, formulas, supporting facts, and related concepts make up big branches.

Holistic: Flow Notes

This method of note-taking is ideal for students who want to maximize their active learning and minimize their subsequent review time. The goal of fluent notes is to treat yourself as the student you are, and not as a lecture transcribing machine.

Write down topics, draw arrows, do small doodles and diagrams and graphs. Go crazy. Get involved in the material. Try to learn actively while writing.

Maybe you’re in history class and your teacher is talking about the Battle of Hastings, and you remember that it happened in 1066 and that other things happened around the world in the year 1066 as well. Write down those facts and make connections.

The sky is the limit in this case. It’s great for people who hate rules.

Although this method is great for learning in the moment, it can be difficult to review flow notes later. If you’re an auditory and visual learner and retain a lot of what you learn in class, it may work well for you. If not, try matching your flow notes with the Cornell method to make it easier for you to review them for exams.

Easy: Write on slides

It’s super effective, and it’s easy. If your tutor is kind enough to provide you with the slides they use in their classes, download the files and print them out in the computer lab. Slides give you an edge in the schematization process. The tutor has already done the work for you. All you have to do is take notes and expand on the key concepts already presented on the slides.

Also, it works great, because then you can look at the slide and remember more or less what the tutor was talking about when he got to that slide. It’s like having a step-by-step tour and you’ve barely had to do anything to get it!

Visual: Bullet Journaling

If you really like aesthetics, doodling or are a particularly visual student, this method may be the best for you. When you write in your bullet journal, you turn a blank page into a beautiful representation of your thought process. Try using it to combine different aspects of other note-taking styles. You can have a page dedicated to mind maps, another dedicated to your flow notes, and even sneak a class schedule or a Sonic the Hedgehog doodle somewhere. It’s your bullet diary.

This method has its drawbacks. It can be difficult to take notes quickly. The goal of bullet journaling is to keep your journal organized and engaging, which can be difficult when you’re scribbling information as fast as you can. One way to combat this is to take notes during class in an outline or using some other method, and then organize them later in your bullet journal as a form of review.

Need ideas on what your journal should look like? Just go to Pinterest or Google “Bullet Journal ideas,” or, specifically, “Bullet Journal ideas for students,” and get carried away. There are lots of examples.

Should I use the computer to take notes?

Should you use your computer to take notes or write them by hand? Students, scientists and teachers have been debating this issue since the use of laptops is allowed in classrooms. The short answer? No.

The longer answer is a bit more complicated. In a study published in 2014, students who took notes on a laptop were more likely to simply copy what their teacher said to the letter. This really hurt their learning because their brains were processing information superficially, rather than taking broader concepts and condensing them into notes. These students performed poorly on concept tests compared to others who took notes by hand.

Not only that, but another study published in 2010 showed that most students who bring their laptops to class only work on class-related material 58% of the time. The other 42% are dedicated to connecting to the Internet, working on other tasks or playing Space Invaders. These students are more likely to abandon their assignments and are less satisfied with their education when asked about it.

Studies agree: using laptops to take notes may not be the best option.

However, the use of the computer is important

Of course, it all depends on how you use your computer. If you are a self-disciplined person, you may benefit from having your laptop to take literal notes that you can study extensively afterwards.

In short: it’s up to you which tool you use to take notes. You are responsible for your education. Just make sure the tool you use is a tool, not a distraction. If you notice that you stop taking notes to browse your Facebook page, you may need to switch to taking notes by hand.

Get the most out of your notes

Now that you have your notes, how can you get the most out of them? There are three great ways to maximize your grades:

Review, review, review. Be sure to review your notes in the first 24 hours after reviewing the bibliographic, newspaper or any type of material you are currently using. In this way, everything you have heard and learned will be recorded in your brain so that it does not fall out of your head later.

Go through a small portion of your notes each day. Reviewing over a long period of time ensures that what you have learned will stick with you and improve your memory.

When you do the readings or research, keep your notes handy and look at the repetitions.

In short, we could talk all day about notes and techniques to take notes. But the most important thing is to understand that taking notes is a skill. Everyone’s brain works differently, and what may work for me won’t necessarily work for you. Take notes often, experiment and discover what you like.

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You may also be interested in: Do Speed Reading Methods Really Work?

Sources Consulted

Spies, A. and Wilkin, N. (2004). Effect of Pre-class Preparation of Legal Cases on In-class Performance. In: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/RESEARCH-ARTICLES-Effect-of-Pre-class-Preparation-Spies-Wilkin/74210b5c4c54f4cd83a5a8391d0c7e3335944d32

Ausubel, D. (1972). How To Create Concept Map Notes. In: https://explore.medstudy.com/what-are-concept-maps

Common Note-taking Methods. In: https://www.utc.edu/enrollment-management-and-student-affairs/center-for-academic-support-and-advisement/tips-for-academic-success/note-taking

You might also be interested in: Do Speed Reading Methods Really Work?

How to take notes effectively

How to take notes effectively. Photo: Unsplash. Credits: Leon @myleon

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