The Note-taking Strategies You Need in Your Life!

With the semester coming to a close and exam season soon underway, it’s important to take a critical look at our study habits. One area for improvement might be note-taking! Due to the virtual environment, it is easy to fall into the habit of simply copy-pasting notes from lecture slides or e-texts. Research has shown that transcribing lectures verbatim isn’t the most conducive process to the learning experience. Rather, reframing information into your own words is far more effective (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014).

In this blog post, multiple note-taking strategies will be detailed so you’re aware of the different options available and hopefully you can incorporate some of them into your studying. An important thing to remember is that these strategies are by no means an exhaustive or comprehensive list. These may not necessarily be the most effective way to retain information for some people. Rather, the hope is that some concepts and features specific to each method may prove to be useful and can be incorporated into how you currently make notes.

Note-taking Strategies

Cornell Method (Friedman, 2014; Mosleh & Baba, 2014)

The Cornell Method was developed in the 1950’s by Walter Pauk, a professor in Cornell University. It’s arguably one of the most recognizable formalized note-taking methods out there. Using this method, you divide your paper into three distinct sections. There are two columns with the leftmost section skinnier than the right. The bulk of the notes are written on the right-hand side of the page. Due to the limited space available, it’s suggested to keep notes succinct, utilizing your own shorthand whenever necessary. The left-hand side is reserved for main ideas, keywords, terms, and questions related to the material. It is known as the “cues” or “recall” section as it helps prime the notetaker to the information learned. Finally, 4–5 lines at the bottom of the page are dedicated to the summary. This is written after the lecture and it highlights any pertinent points on the page. Cornell notes are a systematic way to keep notes organized and allows you to easily scan for any relevant information.

REAP Strategy (Mosleh & Baba, 2014)

The term REAP is an acronym which stands for four steps: “Relating, Extending, Actualizing, and Profiting.” This method involves separating your paper into three columns. The first column consists of either words, phrases, or pictures that serve as the catalyst for recall of the information. The second column consists of either keywords or a small sentence will be used to further expand on the memory cue. Finally, the third column is where the actual note-taking will take place. When using this strategy, it’s important to make connections between the material and your own life. Doing so will create a sense of relevance to the material and allow you to recall information more easily.

Charting Method (Mosleh & Baba, 2014)

The Charting method involves separating your paper into distinct columns, each with its own unique topic or category. Having the information laid side-by-side vertically can allow you to more easily compare and contrast between differing ideas, and it helps you highlight and analyze the relationships between them.

Mind Maps (Kalyanasundaram et al., 2017; Mosleh & Baba, 2014)

Mind maps offer a more visual/graphical approach to note-taking. In the center of the page, you can write down either the central topic or subject area. From there, multiple “branches’’ can be drawn from the center which outline any key sub themes or subtopics. Further branching from these key themes indicates increasingly specific information. It is recommended that you don’t write long sentences but rather short phrases that succinctly summarize each of the topics. This strategy allows you to visually see relationships and connections between lots of ideas. Furthermore, mind maps are effective in condensing vast amounts of information into a single page, allowing you to have a better overall grasp of the central concept at a quick glance.

Irrespective of how you ultimately choose to construct your notes, below are some general guidelines to keep in mind to ensure successful note-taking: (Grahame, 2016; Miyatsu et al., 2018)

  1. Be prepared for the start of any lecture: Always skim over any assigned readings or slides beforehand and familiarize yourself with any specific terms and sub-themes that will be explored during that lecture.
  2. Familiarize yourself with your chosen note-taking method: Regardless of the method or medium (hand-written vs. typed) you choose, it’s important to familiarize yourself with how exactly you will go about making notes. If you are typing notes on a laptop, orient yourself to the softwares you will be using and the various features available to you.
  3. Be conservative with your words: Don’t write essays. When writing notes, make sure they are succinct and capture the main points effectively.
  4. Be organized: Regardless of how you make your notes, make sure they are as neat and organized as possible. This will help you when reviewing notes for exams as it will be easier to spot and highlight key concepts.
  5. Review afterwards: At the end of the day after lecture, look over your notes and fill in any missing gaps and other details. Supplement your notes using further readings and attempt to answer questions you have regarding the material.

Written by: John Chiong

References

Grahame, J. A. (2016). Digital Note-Taking: Discussion of Evidence and Best Practices. The Journal of Physician Assistant Education: The Official Journal of the Physician Assistant Education Association, 27(1), 47–50. https://doi.org/10.1097/JPA.0000000000000054

Kalyanasundaram, M., Abraham, S. B., Ramachandran, D., Jayaseelan, V., Bazroy, J., Singh, Z., & Purty, A. J. (2017). Effectiveness of Mind Mapping Technique in Information Retrieval Among Medical College Students in Puducherry-A Pilot Study. Indian Journal of Community Medicine : Official Publication of Indian Association of Preventive & Social Medicine, 42(1), 19–23. https://doi.org/10.4103/0970-0218.199793

Friedman, M. C. (2014). Notes on Note-Taking: Review of Research and Insights for Students and Instructors. Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching.

Miyatsu, T., Nguyen, K., & McDaniel, M. A. (2018). Five Popular Study Strategies: Their Pitfalls and Optimal Implementations. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(3), 390–407. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691617710510

Mosleh, M., & Baba, M. S. (2013). Overview of Traditional Note Taking. Educational Psychology Review.

Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159–1168. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797614524581

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