What Are the Best Note-Taking Methods for College Students?

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Updated: March 22, 2024, Reading time: 7 minutes

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Getting good grades in college can be difficult, but having the best study notes will make student life easier. One way where a lot of college students fail in making the best study notes is because they do not have the right set of skills to make a study note in the first place; they go to a lecture ready to learn but not ready to make study notes!

While every individual has their own learning pace and style of committing important information to memory, the process of making a study note is fairly simple and straightforward. There are five main methods that most students enrolled in a college course would use to make study notes.

Each of these five methods is useful in its own right, but every college student has their own preferences when it comes to making notes and reading them. While some would prefer more detailed study notes, others would find it too inefficient.

A crowded study note can also be a sign of focusing too much on recording and less on learning, as we have discussed in a previous article, and may even be the reason why your grades are not as good as they are supposed to be.

College Cliffs is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Should You Use Your Computer When Taking Notes?

So, should you take notes on your laptop or handwrite them? Since the introduction of laptop computers into schools, students, scientists, and instructors have discussed this issue. The short answer is no. No.

The longer answer is a little trickier.

According to a 2014 research, students who took notes on laptops were more likely to precisely copy what their professor stated.

This actually hampered their learning since their brains processed information superficially, rather than assimilating broader concepts and compressing them into note-form. When compared to other students who made longhand notes, these pupils did poorly on conceptual examinations.

Not only that, but a 2010 survey found that most students who bring laptops to class only work on class-related material approximately 58 percent of the time. The remaining 42 percent is spent online, working on various chores, or playing Space Invaders.

When asked about their education, these kids were more likely to become distracted and were less happy with their schooling.

How You Utilize Your Computer Matters!

It all depends on how you utilize your computer, of course. If you’re a self-disciplined person, you could benefit from having your laptop on hand to take verbatim notes that you can review thoroughly later.

The tool you choose to take notes is entirely up to you. You are in charge of your education. Just be sure the tool you’re utilizing is a tool and not a distraction.

If you find yourself glancing away from your note-taking document to play Sims 3 or read through your Facebook page, consider switching to longhand notes.

5 Proven Methods of Making the Best Study Notes

The Cornell Method

The Cornell method is a relatively newer way to make study notes, being formalized in the 1940s. This method became popular due to the fact that it is easy to do and, at the same time, very effective in making college students understand and apply the concepts.

In the Cornell Method, you have to partition your paper into three divisions.

  1. The first partition should be 2.5 inches wide, usually on the left side in the fashion of a row.
  2. The second partition should be the remainder, usually 6 inches.
  3. Lastly, there should be a two inches space in the bottom of the paper, in a horizontal fashion

The first partition is where you should write the main ideas of the lecture. The second division is where you should write or list down the details. The bottom part is where you put a short summary or a list of references for future study.

There are available notebooks that already have this designed. You can go to the nearest school supplies store and get a Cornell Notebook.

The idea behind the Cornell Note System is to record enough information without having to exert too much effort in writing everything the lecturer said.

What you need to do whenever you make your study notes using the Cornell Method is to simply be attentive during the lecture, and to write the information in comprehensive chunks of data, where you can infer more information just by reading the sentences or phrases.

The Idea Mapping Method

For a more visual and structured study note, the Idea Mapping will work best for you. This works best for the more abstract lectures or subject matter, for instance, the main ideas and branches found in Post Modern Philosophy or a flowchart showing the effects of a single movement in physics or engineering.

The great thing about this is that it is fun, and those who find studying fun get better grades due to higher levels of engagement. This also forces your brain to be creative as well. Idea mapping also gives you a great summary of ideas, as well as a faster understanding.

There is no wrong way to make an idea map since it depends on how you understand it. You can start with a flowchart or make drawings about the lecture.

The Comprehensive Outline Method

The outline is a great method to use for study notes since it makes reading easier and, at the same time, allows a lot of information to be recorded.

This is also a great method if the lecture has a lot of details and important facts to memorize and is needed to be compartmentalized. For instance, a history lecture would really be easier to digest if your study notes are written in an outline.

An outline method is easily done.

  1. Make a bullet point at the top part of your sheet, where you will place the main idea or the name of the list,
  2. Indent by a few spaces and make more bullet points about the list of facts or ideas and add an appropriate symbol (i.e., A, B, C, etc.),
  3. If the listed ideas have their own list, make a different symbol that says it is a list for the items listed (i.e., if the list of ideas under the main idea is under the symbol C, you can make C1, C2, etc.)

If you have pens with different colors or a highlighter, then making a comprehensive outline is easier to make. You can color the main ideas or highlight important details.

The Topic Charting Method

If you have a lecture or subject that does a lot of comparisons or has similar but different concepts in different areas, then a topic charting method will work best for your study notes. For instance, there are a lot of overlapping shortcuts or techniques with different computer programming languages or overlaps with social studies.

The most common way to use a Topic Charting Method of study notes is to divide your sheet vertically according to the number of topics (i.e., divide into three if the lecture is about computer programming languages like C++, Python, and JavaScript.

Whenever a detail or a fact is discussed, you write it under the column appropriate for it, i.e. C++ is an object-oriented language but JavaScript is Imperative. Once that is done, you should have study notes that are comprehensive and straightforward.

The Classic Transcript Method

If you are in a lecture that focuses on facts and details and the information is already sorted out and discussed in chronological order, then writing it in a transcript would help. One important thing to remember is that it should be 80% listening and understanding and 20% note-taking, so only write down stuff that is important.

The notes should be clear and should consist of only one sentence per idea.

Key Takeaway

With the five methods of making study notes, you can be assured that your skills in making good study notes will improve by leaps and bounds. Apply them as soon as you can, and you will see your grades getting higher and higher!

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