Note Taking

Note takingWhatever it is that you are studying, it is your job to sift through the world of information and resources available to arrive at your own understanding of any problem with which you are presented. Choosing when to make notes and when not to is one crucial part of this work of sifting.

Make the wrong decision and you may find yourself having to retrace your steps later to recover some piece of information that you would have been better to take down in the first place; worse still, you may have forgotten the source of that information entirely and be left with no way of revisiting it. Active note-taking will help you to understand, recall and represent ideas, concepts and information in a range of different ways. Furthermore, it is important to remember that different people find that very different note-making strategies work best for them.


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Note Taking Techniques

The following are some common note-taking techniques to help you get the most out of your lectures.

Cornell MethodCornell Method

  • Divide your page into three with a margin and a bottom bar. During the lecture, take notes in right-hand (further notes) column, using your usual techniques..
  • After the lecture/seminar, pick out keywords based on the notes in the right-hand column. Write these in the left-hand (cue) column. Writing these keywords helps to clarify meanings, reveal relationships and summarise information.
  • After class, cover the note-taking column with a sheet of paper. Then, looking at the keywords in the left-hand column only, use the space at the bottom of the page to summarise the most important information.
  • Reflect on the material by asking yourself questions. For example: Does my summary match the notes in the right-hand column? Does the information make sense? Are there any gaps in my understanding? Do I need to do further reading?

Smart Wisdom

  • Listen for keywords and place them in a chain. Drop unimportant words. E.g.“Is it suitable for my way of thinking and my day-to-day job?”
  • Then put the words in a chain - use joins to replace the dropped words. E.g. suitable-way-thinking/day-day-job?

Mind-mapping or Concept Map

  • Mind mapping takes advantage of how the human brain processes information
  • Start in the centre of the page and build up a network of facts, information and ideas
  • Use a variety of colours and illustrate with images if possible
  • Be bold and creative
  • Find out more about mind mapping here.

Colour coding

  • Using e.g. red for main points, blue for secondary points, green for examples
  • This will help you find things easily when revising.
  • Studies suggest using warm colours for all your note-taking improves concentration & memory

Top Tips

Be concise:

  • Keep it to the point, use abbreviations when appropriate
  • Use bullet points rather than full sentences to act as prompts
  • Try to minimise irrelevant and unimportant information – to avoid confusion later!

Keep it readable

  • Will it be readable later today? Tomorrow? Next week?
  • Think about your handwriting
  • Space material out on the page

Be organised

  • Don’t copy whole paragraphs/slides, try to paraphrase
  • Include references cited/suggested by your lecturers
  • Make sure the structure is easy to follow
  • Don’t rely on handouts – add to them with your own notes
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