Have you ever taken a textbook worth of notes, only for it to never come in useful? Effective note-taking is an essential skill all students need, but not all students have.
Whether you’re a high school student taking notes from a textbook or a college student jotting notes down during a 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 start taking A-level notes in no time!
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.
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: the virtual notebook.
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).
- Notability: the powerful whiteboard.
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 attach the recording to the page for later reference.
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:
- Colored pens
I love to color-code my notes and subjects, and colored pens allow me to do this in notebooks in a more precise way than 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
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.
Before You Start
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!
Content > Appearance
Aesthetics are important to many students, and that’s perfectly fine! Everyone likes looking at neat, colorful, and pretty notes. However, you shouldn’t sacrifice the quality of your notes for their appearance.
However you format or decorate your notes, always put content first. Make sure you’re writing key terms down, making connections, and helping yourself understand the content better.
No matter what type of notes you take, whether it’s Cornell notes, flow notes, bullet points, or flashcards, take notes to learn and understand, and not just for aesthetics. Of course, decorating your notes is perfectly okay, but it’s best to do that after you make sure you understand all the things you’ve noted.
CHECK THIS OUT: The Easiest Way To Maximize Your Next Study Session
What To Write 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?
And speaking of connections, let’s look at the next tip.
When you look at the concepts in your notes, you need to make sure they connect either to each other or to the main theme/question of the chapter or section.
If there is an essential question for the chapter you’re learning about, try to make sure your notes actually answer the question. This will ensure that you’re actually staying on track while taking notes.
Even if there is no question you have to answer, still try to connect key terms and ideas with each other, This will help with memorization and understanding, both essential skills in students.
If you have trouble making connections in your head, try writing them out! You can draw arrows in your notes, or however you’d like to display them. Your notes should help you, so make sure you’re maximizing them for your own benefit!
Review Your 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 them to your notes.
Revision will help you retain the information as well as identify new connections or past mistakes. It’s a great way to ensure the notes you took will come into use!
Use Multiple Resources
Lastly, it’s important to utilize multiple resources when taking notes. Other than the usual textbook or lecture notes, try some other sources out! For example, you can check out:
- YouTube videos (for high schoolers, I especially recommend Bozeman Science, CrashCourse, Heimler’s History, Organic Chemistry Tutor, and Advanced Placement).
- Online sources (like Fiveable for AP students and Khan Academy)
- Books from the library
- Your teacher
- Your classmates
Anything you learn from outside resources that are helpful, feel free to add them to your notes. Remember to make connections and keep them relevant, though!
With these tips, you’ll be able to start taking notes you’ll actually use! Before you go, comment below what your favorite note-taking trick is!
And if you’d like to read more, check these out:
- 23 Easy Habits That Will Skyrocket Your Productivity
- 10 Essential Things To Bring To Every Study Session
- The Easiest Way To Maximize Your Next Study Session