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How To Take Notes in College

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Whether you’re a college student or have been out for a handful of years, there’s no denying it. Note-taking is difficult.

Or at least it can be. You may be using a Word document with the occasional diagrams sprinkled in. Still, you want some more critical information to help you in those classes that you’re taking online that will challenge your short-term memory, your attention span, and your ability to retain information.

There are many different ways to take notes and many different philosophies behind those systems. I am sure that many of you reading this have already developed your own system of taking notes, which might not apply to you. But for those who are struggling with this. Taking awesome, effective notes is underrated.

Students (and professionals alike) spend hours and hours studying for tests, but they never take the time to organize their notes all in one place or apply any systems to how they take their notes. This means when it’s time to study for a test, your chances of forgetting what you learned are very high.

Note-taking is an important skill to learn in school and necessary for your later academic life (and can save you from having to re-learn things in college. However, for most of us, it was never taught properly. It’s actually a bit of an art, so don't worry about cramming everything into your brain on your first try.

If you dedicate yourself to one method and stick with it long enough to master it, it will save you time and energy in the long run. Mastering one will help you pick up your next one much more easily. Taking better notes in class is one of the best things you can do to learn more efficiently.

Whether you are in high school or college or taking a professional development course, there are some tried-and-true methods and strategies that will help you take better notes (and learn more) every time.

As a full-time student, I’ve always been interested in finding the best ways to take notes in classes. The way you organize your notes can greatly impact reviewing information and truly learning the concepts behind them.

There are tons of different note-taking strategies out there, and I highly suggest you experiment with multiple methods and find the system that works best for you and the subjects you learn about. Now let's get into specific techniques!

1. The Cornell Method

The Cornell Notes Method is useful because it provides a linear framework for taking notes. The method also forces the writer to think critically about the lecture and write in an outline format. By creating an outline, the notes more closely resemble an essay.

The topic sentences of your outline will be helpful additions to your short answer responses and essay exams. As a student myself, I know how difficult it can be to stay organized while juggling class and other things constantly.

That’s why, when I was creating this guide, I used the Cornell Notes method as my framework. It’s been proven to work in schools all over the country.

2. Flow Notes

If you have the slides, make use of them. You’re much better off having someone else do the original thinking and then putting your own spin on it. You can create a powerful outline by taking notes during the lecture and then filling in missing gaps with the slides.

A good professor should be able to tell a story, and for the most part, that story will be the basis of what you learn. If you use your notes after class, that story will be much easier for you to recall. That’s why I take good notes even though if you ask me later on. I probably won’t be able to remember what exactly happened in class.

3. Writing on Slides

This is great. I get these slides, and the best thing is that I can print them out and keep them for the whole semester. This way, when it's due time to do a proper typed-out good argumentative essay or term paper, you can give them the handwritten version (that you've been taking notes on) AND a computer-printed version with all the outlines.

You could even send your computer-printed version as well. The ability to take notes is a skill that every student should master. It helps with the information retention process and can be of great use when it comes time to write those pesky essays and final papers.

Taking effective notes is far easier than most people assume; I have developed a way to quickly and easily jot down notes that capture key facts and go a long way towards ensuring your success.

4. The Outline

As you’re taking your outline notes, try to capture key vocabulary and terms that are discussed. This can be done in the form of definitions or bolded terms on a separate page if needed. When the lecture is over, take some extra time to read over the outline that you created.

There are many ways to take lecture notes, and it really just comes down to personal preference. Perhaps you prefer writing your notes by hand on paper, maybe you type complete sentences using the classic “sentence” format, or maybe you use visual representations of your notes. No matter what your preferred method is, the most important thing is reviewing those notes later on.

It seems easy enough to take the notes in class and review them from home as many times as necessary until you feel like they are cemented into your mind. Textbooks, handouts, pre-class, and class notes are just some of the things you can use to develop your Outline.

In addition to writing out your Outline on paper, you can also type it up on Microsoft Word or paste it into your notes. Keep in mind that you can add bullets or numbers to structure your information more chronologically when you use Word or PowerPoint.

Sometimes my Outline is just bullet points with a sentence next to each one. The bottom line is, whatever works for you and is understandable is the move you should go with.

5. Bullet Journaling

Bullet journaling has taken the world by storm. It seems like everyone I know, and many people I don’t, are doing it. Bullet journaling is one of those systems that is so flexible; it can fit into almost anyone’s life.

You have probably seen lots of cool bullet journal layouts filled with hand lettering, colorful drawings, and watercolors. While your friends are out there doing all of this drawn-out fancy work in their journals, you might be sitting in your room looking at a blank page, wondering what to draw or how to make your handwriting look better. 

6. The Mind Map

Mind maps are an excellent way to take notes in subjects with interlocking topics or a complex structure. The mind map allows you to see how information in a subject relates and make connections across the topic.

A mind map is a diagram used to organize information visually. This is especially useful for subjects like history, philosophy, and science (like chemistry), which can be discussed from many different angles. At first glance, a mind map may look like a flowchart or list, but it goes beyond these simple representations.

7. Why Should you Use Your Computer to Take Notes?

You have probably heard it said that computers are a poor tool for taking notes. You can't use them for creativity. It will hurt your hand, etc.

I was pretty surprised by these stories, so I decided to do my own research and see how laptops stack up as note-taking tools compared to pen and paper. Below is what I found. Hopefully, this goes into more detail than you've been able to find elsewhere - or reinforces what you already knew.

The study is based on the idea that students have become increasingly dependent on laptops and Internet access to take notes. We’re now in a situation where, rather than learning how to write longhand, students are being taught – or even worse – forced to use computers to take notes.

In addition, this also means students could be at risk of losing the important skill of effective note-taking. Computers can indeed help us with information overload (although perhaps not always as simple as we would like).

But even more important is the ability to work without a computer. The practice of taking notes by hand is one that many students have given up in favor of computers, tablets, and smartphones.

Some of these students say that using pen and paper is just too inconvenient. In contrast, others argue that laptops and phones allow for quick and easy note-taking, with the ability to apply abbreviations or symbols to text.

Considering laptops are much more versatile than writing implements, note-taking with a computer has become the popular way to create study guides.

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