Notes are a great way to stay engaged with material in class, whether it’s presented in a lecture or a discussion-style format. Not all notes are created equal, however—some strategies in particular can maximize the quality and effectiveness of your notes.
Consider these six tips to enhance your notes this school year.
1. Use simple, personal shorthand
The great thing about notes is that no one else is looking over your shoulder to review them; the only person they need to make sense to is you! You can use any shorthand you like, which in turn makes note-taking in class more streamlined: you’ll spend less time actually writing and have more energy to comprehend the information and engage with it in the class. Shorten words that you use often, like because and therefore. Prioritize writing keywords, and compose sentences that are as short as possible. You can even create symbols (asterisks, round or square bullet points, other punctuation marks, etc.) that indicate questions you have, keywords to remember, or definitions to look up later.
Outlining material as you hear it is an excellent way to organize information you’ll need to know for a test. Like a traditional outline, use numbers and letters to create a hierarchy of information, which allows your mind to group particular ideas and concepts together. You might also consider the Cornell System, which divides the paper into three sections: the largest section is for traditional notes, a skinny column is next to it for writing “cues” or questions you have about notes, and a two- to three-sentence summary of all the information can sit at the bottom. Any of these methods can improve the structure of your notes and help you process the material more efficiently.
3. Mind map
Try mind mapping for a change of pace in your notes. Think of a mind map as a graphic organizer, like the kind you made in elementary school. Not only great for visual learners, mind mapping can help any student make stronger connections between ideas and concepts. In this method, you’ll write an idea on your page and then draw a series of branches connected to the idea. Details can be recorded on smaller branches, which can then be connected to other larger ideas. As a related idea, try drawing pictures and/or diagrams to signify concepts that would be more complicated to write out.
4. Color code
Using colored pencils, pens, or highlighters is a method that can help you differentiate between various ideas. The visual difference in color can help you process information, and it can also be more fun. Choose your favorite colors, establish a system, and go to town!
5. Go digital
If allowed in your class, consider bringing a laptop or tablet to switch things up and take notes by typing them out. There are also apps specifically designated for note-taking that can change how you take and organize notes. Some students find these digital methods quicker and less time consuming. Be careful, however, as you may be tempted to write more than you need since typing is so much faster; remember to stick to key concepts and prioritize efficiency as you take notes.
6. Review and/or rewrite
After a class of note-taking, review what you wrote as soon as possible (within 24 hours if you can). This can help you clarify confusing shorthand or messy handwriting that you may not be able to understand later. Fill in missing details from your textbook, and/or ask a classmate or the professor about a concept you didn’t quite comprehend. Consider rewriting or retyping your notes; this is an excellent way to re-cement information into your brain as you head toward a test!
Try different strategies until you find one that works for you, and if you like variety, consider switching up methods every now and then to keep your mind fresh. Keep in mind that regardless of the style you use, you’ll want the notes to reflect how you personally think and process information. Stay to true to your learning and thinking style, and you’ll stay on the right track!
This is a guest post from Lisa Low. Lisa is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.