7 Tips for Taking Better Notes
Match your note-taking strategy to your learning style with these 7 tips to boost your study skills. Whether you need to ask more questions or think conceptually, taking better notes will help you succeed in the classroom and beyond.
Traditional note-taking strategies assume that the student must leave the lecture with a certain set of information. That is only half true. Although core pieces of information must be taken down, there are different critical lenses through which to filter them and no fixed rules for storing or learning them.
Many adults and children with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) or learning disabilities learn not by simply recording facts but by recording how they are applied or how they are relevant to our lives. After all, these are your notes, and you need to learn the subject in a way that works for you.
Here are approaches to note-taking based on the way information is processed. Match the right method of note-taking with your learning style, and you’ll not only better absorb the information but also pass the course with flying colors.
(Remember: If you use any of the note-taking techniques that follow, you’ll probably need to supplement your notes by reading additional material, reviewing other people’s notes, or chatting with the professor.)
One of the most powerful ways to learn anything new is to question it critically. Your notes are no exception. Are you this kind of thinker? Then spend your note-taking time writing questions and identifying information. If it feels comfortable to you, compose the majority of your notes in question format.
Associative thinkers make connections between ideas that, to many, seem unrelated. If you think this way, connect the subject at hand to other lectures, assignments, or courses. Jot down quickly and briefly what is said, and then let your mind free-associate.
This style of note-taking focuses on broader concepts, ideas, and theories. For example, take very few notes on the literal details of the lecture, focusing instead on the ideas that are sparked by the information. This does mean, however, that you need to get the missing details from somewhere else — say, from reading the textbook.
The polar opposite of conceptual thinkers, detail thinkers take notes on all examples and sub-points and fill in the broader stuff later. If it works for you, dive into the minutiae.
Many students, including those with ADHD, learn by relating information to the real world. Sound like you? Go for it. Throughout a lecture, ask yourself, “How does this work? How does it apply to the world and to my life?”
Being passionately involved in the material is not only a powerful way to learn and remember things, but is the very definition of being a student. When something in a lecture pisses you off, write down your reaction; when something makes you happy, write down what was said. Focus on what makes the blood boil. It’s more fun that way.
Our minds hold information by storing it in a vast network of associations and relationships. Why take that out of your notes? If you find yourself recording seemingly irrelevant stories, don’t get stressed. Keep writing them down.
If it helps, go one step further, and record what your professor is wearing, along with that day’s lecture notes. Or note what you ate for lunch that day. These details can be powerful tools for jogging your memory and remembering the information from the lecture.
Regardless of the focal point of your notes, the goal is to take ownership of why you take them — not to conform to someone else’s system. Get the information you need in the form that is friendliest to you.
4 Tips to Stop Losing Notebooks
- Every notebook needs your name, phone number, e-mail address, school address, and locker or mailbox number written inside the cover or on the first page. Lost notebooks have come back to me from points unknown more times than I can count because I took this little precaution.
- Always keep your notebook in the same place — a backpack, messenger bag, or a spot next to your desk. The key is to place it there often enough to form a habit.
- Make a notebook essential to your life, and it will be more likely to stick around. Store pencils in it, tuck some postcards in the back to fill out during slow lectures, or keep a timepiece tucked into the front.
- Accidentally grab your bio notebook on your way to psych class? Better to take notes on a loose piece of paper than in the notebook you have with you. Otherwise, those notes are as good as gone. Similarly, avoid the temptation to fold notes in half and tuck them into a textbook. Odds are, you won’t find them until long after you need them.