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7 Effective Note-Taking Strategies For Students

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Have you ever spent hours taking the perfect notes, only for them to never come in useful? Effective note-taking is an essential skill all students need, but not all students have. 

Whether you’re taking comprehensive notes from a textbook or jotting down information from a fast-paced lecture, you must learn how to take effective notes that will actually help you after creating them.

In this post, I’ll walk you through my note-taking process and the key points I try to remember while taking notes. With these 7 tips, you’ll transform your note-taking game!

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Table of Contents

Note-Taking Supplies

Before you actually begin the note-taking process, there are some essentials you need. And depending on your preference for digital vs paper notes, there are different tools for you to use. 

Digital Notes

If you like to type your notes (though I recommend hand-written ones over types ones), then Google Docs, Microsoft Word, etc are all perfectly good choices. They’re simple and intuitive, and they have all the features you’ll need to type extensive notes.

But if you like to hand-write your notes on an iPad or tablet, there are a few very similar choices out there that all have their pros and cons.

GoodNotes is basically a notebook on your iPad. You can create notebooks, add pages, and take notes. GoodNotes provides a lot of features for your pen customization, which is considered to be more powerful than Notability. However, it lacks intuitive organization & search tools like Notability (after all, it is structured like a traditional notebook).

This is the app I use. Notability is very similar to GoodNotes, but its organizational structure is different. Instead of organizing by “notebooks” or folders, Notability organizes by file (each file of notes you create). This is more intuitive for many students. Another fan-favorite feature is the recording feature; students can record lectures while taking notes, and they are automatically attached to the page for later reference.

PDFElement allows you to edit PDFs in any way you like, such as editing the text, highlighting text, adding sticky notes, and more. Online students get assigned a lot of PDFs for reading and working, and PDFElement can help you save a lot of printer ink, paper, and extra effort.

Paper Notes

If you prefer taking physical paper notes, you’ll need more than an app. Here are three of my most-used and most-appreciated tools:

When I used traditional notebooks (I use an iPad now), I loved to color-code my notes and subjects with colored pens and highlighters. For example, I write all the titles of my science notes in green, and the titles of my math notes in red.

Highlighters make up the other half of my color-coding system, and Mildliners are my go-to ones. I use them to decorate my notes, highlight key terms, and emphasize important ideas. It’s important to choose high-quality highlighters (like Mildliners) so you don’t accidentally ruin your notes.

Sticky notes can come in super handy in many cases. Taking a break from the textbook? Use a sticky note as a bookmark. Need more space in your notebook? Use a sticky note and write on top of it. Need to remember what pages important chapters are on? Use sticky notes to tab them.

Preview The Content

You should never dive straight into a piece of text and begin taking notes right away. If you’re taking notes from a textbook, preview the chapter before you begin.

Go through the table of contents for that chapter or section, and preview the main ideas you’ll be studying. You can also create a checklist of the key terms that are listed to make sure you mention all of them in your notes.

Similarly, if you’re taking notes during a lecture, come to class prepared. Go through the course lecture guide before class and put them down in your notes. Create a “template” so that all you need to do during the lecture is to fill in your notes.

Previewing proves extremely effective in helping your brain retain information and organize it. So try it out!

Organize Your Notes

Though it may seem easy to simply cram all your notes in a giant block of information, this will be no help for you in the future when you come back to review. Instead, organize your notes with headings and subheadings.

Whether you’re taking Cornell notes, outline notes, or making a mindmap, clearly differentiating between various sections will make it much easier to go back and review them.

If you’re taking digital notes, use the various default tools to change the format, font size, font style, etc of the headings and subheadings.

If you’re taking hand-written notes, use different colors, highlighters, underlines, or simply space (skip a line for each new section) to clearly organize your notes.


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Write Efficiently

This tip applies specifically useful when you’re taking notes during a fast-paced lecture. In these scenarios, you must be an aggressive note-taker.

You have no time to choose the perfect highlighter color or draw the most elaborate picture– don’t worry about the aesthetics of your notes. Instead, focus on capturing the most important pieces of information.

In addition, use tools to help you quickly and accurately take notes. If you are taking digital notes, use symbols (arrows, punctuation marks, math symbols), abbreviations, and other tools (like the automatic bullet points for outlines).

If you’re hand-writing notes, you’re free to draw and use any symbol. You can circle and star information, point one chunk to another, draw quick diagrams as supplement information, etc.

Write Effectively

In addition to taking notes efficiently, you must know how to do so effectively; you must determine what information is worth writing down. Something I swear by is to think before you write

Sometimes, what you’re reading or listening to is something you’ve already mastered. If this is the case, there is no need to write a full definition for it. You can simply connect it to whatever it has a connection to.

Other times, what you’re reading makes absolutely no sense. If this happens, don’t just copy the textbook word for word into your notes. Instead, think over it and try to figure out what it means. Once you’ve done that, you can write your own definition down; this ensures that you understand the concept in the moment and in the future when you review your notes.

If you’re still unsure of what to write in your notes, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I mastered this already?
  • Is this as important and relevant as I think?
  • Does this make sense to me?
  • How can I reword it to make more sense to me?
  • What connections can I draw from this that will help me understand?

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Review Notes

Remember how important previewing is? Well, the review is just as important (maybe even more important) than the preview.

After taking your beautiful, useful, and maybe jam-packed notes, it’s time to review them. Immediately after note-taking, quickly review everything you’ve written to make sure you didn’t miss any key terms or concepts. You should also make sure you understand everything and that all the connections that should be there are there.

A day or two after taking your notes– or before the next class– review your notes again. This time, read through them carefully and “relearn” everything. You might even come across some AHA! moments and add to your notes.

The revision will help you engrain the information in your head as well as identify new connections or past mistakes. It’s a great way to ensure the notes you took will come into use!

Compare & Discuss Notes

After many years in school, one of the most important study skills I learned is to discuss with others. Study groups aren’t just for test prep and late-night cramming! Even just after taking notes, you can spend some time with a study group to compare them.

When comparing notes with your study group, you should do the following:

  • Go through each section and discuss what you think the most important takeaway is. These might differ between each person (which is okay!), and when that happens, be sure to respect and listen to their explanation. It might help you learn something new!
  • Ask questions about any concept you didn’t understand or thought was hard to grasp. Someone may have the same concern, and someone else may be able to answer the question for you.
  • Discuss the connections outside of the text/lecture that you made. You can talk about the ways you believe this information relates to your life or to modern society; making outside connections help consolidate the information.
  • Update your notes with new information, questions, diagrams, etc.

You’re reading 7 Effective Note-Taking Strategies For Students by Ellie from Sincerely Students. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out the rest of the blog and follow Ellie on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram!

Conclusion

And that’s it! With these note-taking strategies and tips, you’ll start taking notes like a pro in no time. Leave a comment with your favorite note-taking app or tool!

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