The Best Ways To

Take Notes

You may recall back in elementary school to high school, you took notes or were taught how to take notes by your teacher’s preferred note taking method. Once you get to college or university (for the Canadian readers), note taking needs to be levelled up. This article will discuss how to take good notes and some of the noteworthy note taking methods!

Take Notes


Taking Methods

1. Taking Methods

Begin with four or five that will be covered in lecture. Beneath those points, write some more points about each topic as the professor covers them. If you are taking notes by hand, be sure to leave enough room for all your sub-points. If you are taking notes on the computer, you can rearrange headings and subheadings as you type in a text document.

The advantages are that it is a simple way to take notes and a easy method to take notes in class. It also helps you follow along and pay attention during lectures. However, it can be overwhelming to review the notes after class.

To help you with reviewing these kinds of notes, try to read each main point and summarize it yourself without looking at your notes too much. Use your notes to test yourself on how much you know rather than simply reading them over and over again!

2. The Cornell Method

The Cornell Method is good way to divide up your notes if you are looking to get the most out of your review time. You divide your paper into three sections: notes, cues and summary.

Your notes section is for the notes you take during class. You can structure them anyway you prefer but most people prefer to outline method. The cues section is used during or directly after class. This section is filled with main points of the main topic, people or potential test questions. Use this section to give yourself cues to help you remember big ideas. The summary section is done after class or later on when you are reviewing your notes. This section is used to summarize the entire lecture.

It’s important to keep the cues and summary section as simple as possible. Feel free to fill up notes with doodles, diagrams, page references and whatever else you need to represent the material presented in class.

3. The Mapping Method

Mind maps are a great way to take notes for specific types of subjects: These subjects are: chemistry, history, and philosophy that have interlocking topics or concepts that are complex and abstract. You can use the mind map or web to get a handle on how certain topics relate or go in depth with one specific idea. It is perfect for students who like writing notes in a notebook/binder/journal.

For example you are attending a lecture about historical events, start with the main topics in the center of page. Then draw arrows of all the things that led to this event as your professor reviews them. While looking over your notes after class, go more in depth and add sub-concepts to each branch. Some items can be: dates, formulas, supporting facts and related concepts. Students can also add colour-coding systems or develop a short hand system that works for them.

4. Flow Notes

This note taking method’s advantage is that it is geared towards students looking to maximize their active learning within the class and minimize their review time later on. The point of flow notes is to not treat yourself like a lecture-transcribing machine.

You jot down main topic, draw arrows, draw doodles and diagrams and graphs. Engage with the material. Try to actively learn as you’re writing. This method is perfect for people who do not like to follow the rules. For example, in history lecture, your professor is talking about a war. You remember that this happened on a certain year and that other key events also occurred globally in the same year. You would write this fact down and draw connections between the various events. While this method is excellent for learning “in the moment’, it can be challenging to review flow notes on a later time. If you are an auditory or visual learner and keep a lot what you learn from lectures, maybe this works for you. If not, try pairing your flow notes with the Cornell Method to make them easier to make test questions when you review for midterms!

5. Writing on Slides

This note taking method may be considered to be used for those who are lazy but there is nothing wrong with it. It’s effective and it’s easy to do! If your college professor is gracious enough to give you slides that they are using in the lectures, download the files and print them out. The slides give you a leg up on the outlining process. You just need to focus on taking notes and expanding on the main points or concepts presented on the slides. It’s good for looking at later on as you can view the slides and remember what the professor was talking about when they reached that part of the slide.

6. Bullet Journaling

It is a note taking method that can be used in and out of the classroom. If you are into aesthetics, enjoy doodling, or a visual learner; this note taking method is the perfect one for you.

When you write in your bullet journal, you use a blank page to make a beautiful and aesthetic representation of your thinking process. Try using it combine different aspects of other note taking methods. You can have one page dedicated to mind maps, another page dedicated to flow notes and even sneak in a class schedule or write a to-do list or doodle something on any of the pages.

This method does have disadvantages. It can be difficult to take notes quickly using this method. The goal of bullet journals is to keep the journal organized and attractive which can be tricky when you’re scribbling down information as fast as you can. One way to fight this is to take notes during class using either the outline method or some other method and then organize them later in your bullet journal or notebook. This session would count as studying or preparing for exams. If you wonder how your bullet journal should look, take a quick look on Pinterest and type in “bullet journal” or “bujo ideas” or even “bujo for college students”. You will find lots of inspiration!

7. Charting Method

This note taking method takes the Cornell Method by dividing paper into 3 columns, hence the word charting. It’s similar to the mind mapping method, it helps you connecting relationships and facts together between topics. This note taking method is a lazier method than the previously mentioned ones but works for people who want to highlight main points of information on different topics and want to organize facts for easy review.


on How to Take Better Notes

One technique is the 5 R’s of note taking. This is to help you remember the most important points of note taking.

1. Record

During the lecture, write all meaningful information clearly and ensure you can read it later on!

2. Reduce

After the lecture, write summary of themes and facts using key words as cues. Summarizing as you study helps to:

  • clarify meaning and relationships of themes
  • reinforce continuity
  • strengthen memory retention
  • prepare for exams in advance

3. Recite

Recite all information in own words without looking at the notes or the textbook.

4. Reflect

Recite all information in own words without looking at the notes or the textbook.

5. Review

Before reading or studying new material, take some time to quickly look over your older notes. Skim over main ideas and points. This step enhances your retention of old material while adding new material to your memory.


to Take Good Notes in Class

The first step in good note taking is to come to class prepared. This includes preparing before even the lecture begins. Many professors recommend reading assigned materials before your class. This is great advice as it lets you know what topic will be discussed. If there are too many chapters for your readings, skim it to get an idea of what to expect. If there are no readings, try to research and get familiar with the topic before arriving to class. Be organized and pack all the materials and resources you need for taking notes in class. This includes: notebooks, pens, pencils, textbook and laptop/tablet for digital notes.

Another way is to look at class syllabus so that you know the main topic and what is going to be important to focus on.

Look at notes from previous class sessions to help you understand new concepts you will learn in this class session.

It’s been mentioned but be organized! Title your page with class name and date. Have different notebooks or sections for each class and keep notes for one class together in one space in chronological order.


Note Taking During class

Some practical steps you can try to take better notes for academic classes

  • Looking for conceptual information: focus on main points the professor makes, rather than copying down every single thing they say.
  • Learning factual information: Transcribe lecture verbatim can help for short answer test question but only if you study the notes within 24 hours.
  • Record questions and thought you have or content that confuses you for follow up or to ask your professor
  • Jot down keywords, dates, names, etc. that you can go back and define, look up or explain later on.
  • Take visually clear, concise, organized and structured notes so that they are easy to read and make sense to you later.
  • If you want notes to be short and brief, use symbols and short form. Write in phrases instead of complete sentence to help you focus on main points.
  • Be consistent with the structure. Pick a note taking format that works best for you and stick with it.
  • For online class: follow the above steps to help you manage your time to study. Once you have watched the lecture, use the rewind feature to put in any gaps you have in your notes. Take notes of time stamps of any parts of the class you want to revisit again.


Note Taking Method

There is no best note taking method. Each note taking method is good in its own situation. It depends on what you are learning and your preferences. Remember every person learns and studies in a different way. With this in mind, consider how you study and figure out which note taking method compliments how you learn and study. Don’t be scared to try the different note taking methods, while using the pomodoro technique, and find which one works best for you!

Note Taking Tips

After you have gotten your notes, how do you use the most out of them? Here are three ways to maximize your notes!

1. Review your notes

Make sure you review your notes within the first 24 hours after your lecture. This ensures everything you heard and learning in your brain so it will not “fall out” of you head later.

2. Reviewing a small section of your notes everyday.

Do not try to cram before your test. Reviewing over a long period of time to make sure that what you have learned will stick and improve your recall.

As you are doing assigned reading or research, have notes on hand and notice repetition. If your professor mentioned it in the lecture several times and it’s mentioned in your readings, there is a good chance these main points or main topic will appear as test questions.

Remember that note taking is a skill. Everyone’s brain works differently and it is important to find which method works for you. Take notes, experiment various ways and find out what you like. Another tip is to make sure you write notes that are easy to look at after the lecture is done!


Notes on Paper versus Computer

This has been a long time debated topic since electronics were allowed into the classrooms. There is no right or wrong answer. A 2014 study discovered that students who took notes in class on a laptop were likely to copy down what their professor said in verbatim. This actually impaired the students learning as their brains were processing information shallowly instead of taking big concepts and condensing them into notes. These college students performed poorly on conceptual test compared to other who wrote their notes by hand.

Another study published in 2010 showed that many students who take their laptops to lectures are working on class-related material about 60% of the time. The other 40% of the time is being used to go online, work on different assignments or playing games or browsing social media. These students were likely to stay off task and were less satisfied with their education when asked.

Although studies state that going digital may not be the best choice… it is HOW you USE your computer that is important. If you are a self-disciplined person, you might benefit from having your laptop take verbatim notes that can allow to write better notes after class if your preferred style. Having access to your laptop or tablet can help you look up facts or information before contributing to class discussions or ask questions to your professor.

Research suggests handwritten notes can help you learn and remember concepts better than notes on the computer. There are some advantages to typing notes on the computer too.


  • easier to make diagrams
  • sometimes better for visual learners
  • provides more focus for students prone to distractions online
  • can be better for comprehension and retention of conceptual information


  • faster, easier to take higher volume of notes
  • easier to edit, easy to review and organize for studying
  • can be backed up, shared, searched, etc.
  • can be better for comprehension and retention of factual information

It is your responsibility as a student to be responsible for your academic. Ensure that what you are using is a tool and not a distraction. If you find yourself distracted from your note taking app to look through Facebook or play a game, you may need to switch to writing by hand for your notes.

After classes…

Good note taking includes revisiting them a day after class. It’s time to organize, fill in definitions, key terms and figure out any concepts you may missed or not fully comprehend. Even after taking good notes, you may need to use resources in order to study. Do not forget to use the resources that are available to you:

These resources include:

  • Office Hours: Ask college professors or TAs questions about confusing concepts
  • Academic Coaching or Learning Center Resources: Make appointment to discuss your note taking, learn other strategies for it or how to study
  • Look at your notes: Write summary in your own sentence or words. Write questions about what you wrote, chunk them into sections.
  • Self-Test: Use notes to make a test guide and prepare for for test.