Note-Taking Methods for College — Best Practices to Optimize the Process

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Taking adequate and efficient notes in college is a key factor in academic success. While the pressures of lectures, homework, essays, and exams can feel overwhelming, implementing strategic note-taking methods helps students break down the material into more retainable and manageable pieces. If you’ve found yourself struggling to take helpful notes during lectures or while reading material, except for hiring professional essay service, here’s everything you need to know to optimize your note-taking process.

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The Impact of More Effective Note-Taking

It’s easy to underestimate the importance of taking quality notes, but according to the International Journal of Instruction, in April of 2020, strategic and extensive note-taking has been found to improve student learning, as well as academic achievement. Moreover, according to the science dissertation writing service researchers, the ability to process information is directly related to your note-taking behaviors.

Taking notes — whether handwritten or digital — helps students focus on the most important information, better comprehend more complex concepts and summarize the main idea of the topic. But, more than simply ensuring you understand what is happening while you’re learning, it’s valuable for improved retention later on. This is extremely beneficial for writing essays, exams, presentations, or even applications in real-life situations when a clear knowledge of the subject matter is imperative for success.

Common Methods for Taking Notes During Lectures

If you’re looking to improve your note-taking skills — luckily — there are a plethora of methods from which to choose. Understanding the different options that university students tend to use can help you find the approach that will be most beneficial for you. The most common methods for taking improved notes include:

The Outline Method

A page of highlighted and annotated notes written in the style of the outline method for note-taking

Made by NoteLedge

Possibly the easiest and most common method that students choose to take notes is the outline method. This approach involves structuring your notes in the form of an outline, starting with four or five key points mentioned in the lecture. From there, you can add related subtopics below each main point as the professor covers them. Generally, students use a bullet point list starting from the far left of the page and indenting underneath as in-depth ideas continue to be added. 

  • Pros: Not only is this system easy to use with a clean look, but it also highlights key points in a logical way while reducing review time in the long run. 
  • Cons: The outline method is less effective if your class or professor doesn’t tend to follow a specific structure. It’s also not well suited for subjects such as chemistry, which involve more formulas and charts — as opposed to courses with key ideas and minor points of support.

The Mapping Method

A colorful page of notes with connected topics, ideas and concepts in the mapping method note-taking approach.

Made by NoteLedge

Also known as a mind map, this technique is useful for interweaving topics or abstract ideas. When lecture content is in-depth or intense, this allows students to divide notes into connecting branches for a better understanding of relationships between topics and concepts. In this case, you can continue to branch off and connect information however you see fit.  

  • Pros: This is a more visually appealing and concise way to retain complex information.  
  • Cons: Because the content is generally heavy in this method, it’s possible to misplace ideas or run out of space along the way.

The Cornell Method

A page of notes broken into 3 separate sections following the Cornell note-taking method

Made by NoteLedge

If you don’t mind a bit of extra work, the Cornell method for taking notes might be an effective choice for you. This approach involves a specific layout — dividing the page into three or four sections. A portion at the top for the title and date, a section at the bottom for a summary and a larger region in the middle with a vertical line toward the left of the page. The larger section in the middle is intended for your main notes and key ideas, while the piece on the left — the cue column —  is for keywords, comments, or questions.

  • Pros: This is a powerful approach for absorbing information, as it pulls out main points while summarizing information systematically. 
  • Cons: For those with little time, the Cornell method typically requires pages to be prepared before a lecture, as well as time afterward to summarize the lesson.

If these learning systems aren’t constructive for your learning style, there are an abundance of alternative options to consider, including the charting method, sentence method, bullet journaling or writing on a professor’s slides if they’ve been provided. It’s significant to keep in mind that all of these options range in terms of simplicity and might be better suited for different courses, so it’s okay if it takes a bit of time to find what method works best and when. 

Handwritten Versus Digital Notes for Class

It’s often questioned whether taking notes by hand or digitally is more useful, but there isn’t one right answer. Different methods may be more uniquely applicable to different students. However, if you’re deciding which option is right for you, there are advantages and disadvantages that accompany both to consider.

Handwritten Notes

Some students find the idea of slowly writing their notes by hand tedious and rather exhausting. Therefore, this traditional method is slowly becoming a less attractive choice for students who believe taking notes on their devices is much easier. However, there are important advantages of continuing to take notes by hand that students should keep in mind. 

Longhand notes force students to pay more attention during lectures so they can summarize the most relevant and meaningful information because there’s simply no time to write everything down. By slowing the process and properly summarizing key ideas, students are more likely to absorb information efficiently. In fact, a 2014 Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles study concluded that students taking longhand notes tended to perform better academically than those using laptops.

Digital Options

In the digital age — with technology finding increasing importance and prominence in students’ everyday lives — taking notes on a laptop or other device shouldn’t be overlooked. Statistics highlighted by Research found that of the 88% of university students who own a laptop, 63% used them in class, and as technology continues to improve, these numbers are only expected to increase.

Students who prefer to write their notes digitally often value the speed and ease with which they are able to take them. This often leads students to take lecture notes verbatim, writing as much information from the presentation as possible. While possibly not as effective for retention, taking notes digitally is an effective way for students to store more information and efficiently research, communicate and collaborate long-term.

However, it’s significant to note that using laptops or computers can also lead to distraction, as students often attempt to multitask. But, research suggests that effective multitasking simply isn’t possible. An article from SAGE Open in 2019 reports that trying to divide attention between multiple tasks results in less cognitive capacity devoted to each and, therefore, a decrease in performance. So, it’s up to the student to keep themself on track for improved learning, retention, and overall academic achievement.

Additional Note-Taking Tips for Students To Consider

Not only can understanding the methods of note-taking help you determine what might work best for you but implementing additional tips along the way can be extremely valuable for improved results. While optimizing the process takes a little extra effort, the beneficial academic outcomes will prove invaluable. 

Additional Note-Taking Tips

  • Sit at the front of the class: Sitting toward the front of the class isn’t always easy for some students, but it’s highly recommended for increasing your attentiveness. Being exposed to your instructor can help you stay focused throughout the lesson. 
  • Find your most effective strategy: Because there are so many note-taking techniques to consider, finding the one that is most suited for your learning style and needs is critical. This can help students develop a long-term system for academic success.
  • Keep your notes succinct: The use of laptops and other digital devices make verbatim notes tempting. However, It’s more practical and efficient to focus on key points and summaries for improved intake and easier review later on.
  • Stay organized: Academic achievement doesn’t only revolve around taking quality notes, but it also involves keeping these notes organized. If you’re unable to find them when you need them, they can’t do you any good. This organization might include creating specific folders on your computer or utilizing a binder to host your longhand notes.
  • Avoid distractions: While college constitutes heavy work for multiple courses, multitasking is not an effective way to approach them. McGraw-Hill supports this, reporting that several studies found multitasking hurts productivity. Optimizing the process means fully focusing on the subject at hand, refraining from working on other material and abstaining from opening non-course-related applications.
  • Use abbreviations: Because shorter notes are typically more useful, utilizing abbreviations wherever possible is helpful to save time and work along the way. But, make sure these abbreviations are well-known — or easy to remember — later on, so as not to confuse you during the reviewing process.

Getting the Most Out of Your Notes

  • If you’re handwriting, type them later: For the students who prefer to take their notes by hand, it’s valuable to consider typing them later on. This is a great way to ensure you review your notes while storing them in a more organized and easily-searchable way for future use. 
  • Write down questions after class: Taking notes is a useful way to capture important information from a lesson, but if you don’t understand the material it can be difficult to retain. Writing down questions you still have after class can help you focus on what you’re aiming to understand better. It may also be advantageous to ask your instructor these questions who can more competently explain any concepts you didn’t grasp. 
  • Review your notes: If you want to get the most out of your notes, the most valuable way to absorb information effectively is to review them afterward. Writing them down in a strategic manner is beneficial for initial understanding, but going back to them, later on, is the most powerful approach to retain the course material long-term.

Taking efficient notes is a critical step in enhancing the learning process, but everyone’s learning style is different. An understanding of the systems to possibly implement is a great way to start, but what’s most important is finding the methods and techniques that are best for you.

Find the Best Note-Taking Tools With Kdan Mobile

More than optimizing your own note-taking process, you can implement the use of helpful software to pave the way for academic achievement as well. Options like Kdan Mobile offer a number of products and solutions so you can work smarter — not harder.

This even includes the Markup application, which can highlight and auto-summarize web pages, PDFs, and epub books for you. This is a great way to save you valuable time, while simultaneously leveling up your research efficiency for the future. If you’re ready to read faster, better and smarter to fully optimize your learning process, explore the uses and benefits of Markup here.

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