The best way to write study notes

As a student, it’s likely you’ll have done a lot of note-taking by now. But are your study notes messy, disorganised or confusing to read? If so, it’s probably because you haven’t learned how to write study notes effectively yet.

Writing notes in your own words is one of the best ways to ensure you’ve remembered and understood what your teacher is saying in class or what you’ve read in a textbook.

However, unless your notes are concise, structured and well-organised, it’s unlikely they’ll be much help when it comes to reviewing what you’ve just been taught or revising for an exam.

There are many different ways to take good notes; you just need to find the one that suits you best. In this article, we’ve outlined some of the most popular note-taking methods – which you can try out next time you’re in class.

What’s the best way to write study notes?

There’s no one best way to write study notes, but some of the most popular methods include the Cornell Method, the Outline Method, the Mapping Method, the Flow Notes Method and the Bullet Journaling Method.

Some tips for helping you take effective study notes are to make sure you focus only on the key points and phrases, consider drawing pictures if you’re short on time and remember to clarify anything you don’t understand.

Keep reading to learn more about writing better notes.

Why is it important to take good study notes?

As mentioned above, taking your own notes helps you to remember and understand key topics and concepts much better. This is because:

  • You have to think about what you’re writing down
  • You’ll be actively listening to what your teacher is saying
  • You’re more likely to be able to make connections between topics
  • You can review everything you’ve learnt once the class is over

Effective study notes will also make exam time less stressful, as they’ll be really helpful when it comes to revising.

What are some of the different note-taking techniques?

The Cornell Method

Created at America’s Cornell University, this note-taking technique has been around for decades.

It’s great for taking structured notes, as you divide your paper up into easily-digestible sections:

  • Notes – This is for the notes you take during class, which you can structure however you like, although we recommend the Outline Method (see below).
  • Cues – This section can be written during or straight after class. It’s where you fill out the main points or potential exam questions. The words you write should jog your memory, to help you remember bigger ideas.
  • Summary – Your summary can be written straight after class or when reviewing your notes. It should be a summary of the whole lecture.

You can also use the Cornell Method for taking revision notes from textbooks. It’s particularly helpful for testing yourself, as you can cover up the notes and summary sections of the page and see how much you can remember from your cues.

The Outline Method

This is one of the easiest ways to take notes, and most people find it comes quite naturally.

It’s useful for learning about detailed topics, as you use headings and bullet points to organise the information straight down the page.

Here’s how to use the Outline Method:

  • At the start of each lesson, write a headline for the main topic at the top of the page and underline or highlight it
  • As the lesson progresses, write subheadings for each subtopic, indenting them slightly to the right
  • List key information underneath each subheading using bullet points

The great thing about this method is that it’ll help you to pay attention to what’s being said. The downside is that reviewing your notes afterwards can be overwhelming. To combat this, you could try highlighting keywords straight after class, so that only the most relevant information stands out.

The Mapping Method

Also called the Mind-Map Method, this note-taking method is ideal for visual learners, and it’s useful for when you’re being taught about the relationships between different topics.

You start by writing the name of the main topic you’re learning about in the middle of your page. Then you write headings for each subtopic branching off the main topic, with important notes underneath each one. You can then have more subtopics branching off each of the previous subtopics, continuing this pattern as needed.

This method is perfect for subjects that have interlocking topics or complex, abstract ideas, for example, history, chemistry and philosophy.

The Chart Method

This is another good technique to use if you’re learning about the relationships between topics, however, it’s really only useful if you know what the topics are before the start of your lesson.

To use it, divide your page into several columns, labelled by category. Then, when your teacher mentions information relating to one of the categories, jot it down in the relevant column.

It’s handy for lessons that cover lots of facts and figures as it enables you to organise information in a way that’s easy to review.

The Sentence Method

If your lessons are fast-paced and cover a great deal of information, you may find this note-taking method helpful.

This is because each time a new topic is introduced, you jot down the main points on a new line. This enables you to cover lots of details quickly and helps you to identify which information is worth writing down.

If you want to organise your notes further, use headings for each main topic.

The Flow Notes Method

Rather than simply transcribing a lesson, the Flow Notes Method allows you to actively learn while you’re writing, so you spend less time reviewing your notes after class.

The aim is to engage with the material in a way that connects with you, from drawing doodles, diagrams and graphs to use your knowledge of other subjects to make connections with what’s being said in your current class.

If you’re an auditory and visual learner with a fantastic memory, you might find that taking notes in this way suits you best, although pairing this technique with Cornell notes can make it easier to revise for exams.

The Writing on Slides Method

Some teachers are kind enough to provide their students with course material before the lesson. If you’re lucky enough to be in this position, use it to your advantage!

By printing off presentation slides beforehand, you can save time by annotating the key concepts that are already there in front of you, instead of frantically trying to keep up with everything that’s being said.

As well as being an easy way to write notes, it’s effective for reviewing and revising too, as actually seeing the slide means it’s more likely you’ll remember what your teacher was saying at the time.

The Bullet Journaling Method

Another one for visual learners, the Bullet Journaling Method allows you to be as creative with your note-taking as you want to be.

With this technique, you take aesthetically-pleasing notes and sort information in the way your mind works – which can involve blending multiple note-taking methods.

The aim is to make your bullet journal as attractive and organised as possible. Although, this can be difficult to do when you’re scribbling down notes in a classroom environment, so you can always use another technique when writing notes in class and then transfer them to your bullet journal when reviewing them afterwards.

Is it better to hand-write study notes or type them up?

As you now know from reading this article, there are multiple ways in which you can take good study notes, and it’s up to you to decide which method is best suited to the way your brain understands and retains information.

Similarly, whether you prefer handwriting notes or typing them up on a laptop or tablet, it’s your choice how you record the information you’ve learned from a lecture or textbook.

It could be argued that because typing is quicker, you’re less likely to process information properly in order to condense it into note-form. Or that electronic devices provide more opportunities for distraction. However, self-disciplined students may benefit from taking in-depth digital notes they can study extensively once a class is over.

What are some tips for taking better study notes?

If you’re struggling to take effective study notes, you might find the following tips helpful:

  • Don’t try to write everything down – just focus on key points and phrases.
  • But don’t write too little either, as this could lead to ambiguity.
  • Avoid the temptation to copy everything, word-for-word. Write in short, succinct sentences, organising and rewriting the original material in your own words. This will also help to ensure you’re not plagiarising.
  • If you’re short on time, use abbreviations and symbols, or try drawing pictures or diagrams instead.
  • Colour-code what you’ve written after the initial note-taking; not during.
  • If you don’t understand something, remember to go back later and clarify it.

How to get the most out of your study notes

Throughout this article, we’ve spoken about reviewing your notes, and we can’t stress enough, the importance of doing this.

You should review your notes within the first 24 hours to make sure you retain as much information as possible, and then go back over small portions of your notes every day up until an exam or test.

Your study notes will also come in handy when doing research or assigned reading, as you can refer to them to ensure you have a good understanding of the subject matter.

Summary

Writing study notes in your own words is one of the best ways to make sure you’ve remembered and understood what your teacher is saying in class or what you’ve read in a textbook. It will also make exam time less stressful, as your study notes will be really helpful with revision.

When it comes to taking good notes, there are many different methods – you just need to find the one that suits you best.

Some of the most popular note-taking methods are the Cornell Method, the Outline Method, the Mapping Method, the Chart Method, the Sentence Method, the Flow Notes Method, the Writing on Slides Method and the Bullet Journaling Method.

Some tips to help you take effective study notes include making sure you focus only on the key points and phrases, drawing pictures if you’re short on time and remembering to clarify anything you don’t understand.

Once you’ve taken your notes and class is over, it’s extremely important to go back over them to increase the chances of the information staying in your head.

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