Different Ways to Write Down Notes in a Classroom

Finding your ideal note-taking style can be key to your academic success.
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Note taking is an important skill to master in the classroom. A strong set of notes can jog your memory, teach you ideas and facts that you missed during the initial lecture, and help your friends learn the material if they missed a class session. But everyone's notes are a little different, and finding a note-taking style that works best for you is a significant rite of passage in your career as a learner. Experimenting with different styles of note taking can help you find the method that best captures your organizational patterns and how you learn.

1 For the Traditionalist: The Outline Method

The outline method may be the most common format of note taking, and it holds this title for good reason. This method is neatly organized and, typically, easy to read. Main headings are marked by Roman numerals, subheadings are indented and labeled with capital letters, and further headings can be preceded by lowercase Roman numerals and so on (see References 1, 2). As ideas become more detailed, they can be separated from one another with additional indentation. However, it is worth noting that while this method is organized, it is also labor-intensive, and creating an outline during a lecture can be difficult, if the lecture moves quickly (see Reference 2).

2 For the Visual Learner: Idea Mapping

If you learn best when you can see ideas connected to one another, mapping as a note-taking technique may work well for you. The exact shape of the map is up to the learner, as long as the related thoughts and topics are connected. Start at the center of your page and write down the topic of the lecture. Then, draw lines outward for main ideas and subtitles. As details are presented, connect them to the subtitles (see Reference 3). This method of being able to visually connect ideas is appealing to many, but be careful: If you miss cues in the lecture that separate topics, your map may mislead you (see Reference 1).

3 For the Self-Quizzer: The Cornell Method

The Cornell method works well for those who create study guides before exams or quizzes. To employ this method, divide your paper into two columns: the left column should take up roughly 1/4 of the page; the right column should cover the remainder of the page. Use the left column to record subheadings and key phrases and the right column for details and important points. Skip a line between topics to make them easy to distinguish. When you're ready to quiz yourself, cover the right column and try to recall concepts based on the keyword in the left column (see Reference 2).

4 A Few Final Notes

Each method of note taking has its advantages and disadvantages--not just for the note taker, but also for the discipline being studied. Some methods may work well for humanities courses, while others may work best for mathematics or science courses (see Reference 1). All of these methods require focus and excellent listening skills, so make sure to come to class prepared to listen, learn and understand the content being presented. No matter what method you choose to adopt, an attitude that welcomes learning is the most essential tool you'll need for success (see Reference 4).

Amma Marfo is a Boston-area higher education professional and writer. She also writes for The Niche Movement, Talking Points Memo, and her personal site, The Dedicated Amateur.