A guide on how to take notes

Jenny Conant
March 21, 2022

The question of how to take notes is a hard question to answer. There are personal choices people make when taking notes; however, the best way to master how to take notes is to understand the different note-taking methods, find one or more that fit your learning style, and identify additional ways to augment your notes. By doing this, you’ll learn how to take good notes and how to take smart notes.

Determine your note-taking style

It’s hard to pinpoint when people are first introduced to note-taking. Generally speaking, late elementary school classes, especially science and math, probably initiated students into the world of note-taking. How to take good notes and how to take smart notes, is likely not answered within the notebooks of fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. It’s probably not until late high school that people start to get the hang of how to take good notes, and it is even later, often in college or beyond, when they learn how to take smart notes.

Despite not being pivotal points in most people’s note-taking journey, middle school and early high school typically offer helpful instruction and guidance about how to take notes. I will summarize the most popular below. 

The Outlining Method

This is helpful if you want to learn how to take notes from a textbook. The formatting may vary, but it generally follows an indented structure with points denoted by Roman numerals, letters, and numbers. The high-level concepts are furthest left, while the supporting points are indented accordingly. For example, Roman numeral lines represent main ideas, letter lines represent subpoints, and number lines represent supporting details, facts, or comments. Still, if you would prefer to forgo the more traditional Roman numerals, letters, and numbers, they can be substituted with simple bullet points while maintaining the effectiveness of this method. This is the note-taking method that Summari, an app that summarizes text, uses, namely using headers to identify main ideas  followed by bullet points that contain specific and informative details.

The Cornell Method

This method emphasizes concise and orderly note-taking. It is structured by dividing the paper into two columns, the larger column on the right for main ideas, a smaller column on the left for keywords, and about five to seven lines left at the bottom of the page to summarize important information. This method uses abbreviations and symbols to avoid long sentences, and its simplicity and efficiency make it easy to use. When its time to review your notes, cover the right column and use the left column as cues to help you study.

The Mapping Method

This works particularly well for visual learners. Envision a spider web, with the main ideas at the center, sub-ideas branching off, and supporting ideas branching off of the sub-ideas. This method tracks key relationships, appealingly displays them, and can serve as a strategy to summarize the material into an accessible overview. It is not the only method that might appeal to visual learners who are interested in taking good notes.

The Charting Method

This is also advantageous for visually-inclined learners. It uses rows and columns to classify and organize information. The columns are labeled by categories, while the rows contain corresponding information such as main ideas, subtopics, and supporting details. This method works well for recording facts and statistics in a table/chart-style format. Each row offers a means to summarize large amounts of information into more digestible pieces.

The Sentence Method

This method is more unstructured than the other methods mentioned, but it’s not lacking in structure altogether. Each new main idea, thought, or fact is recorded on a new line. Although it’s simple, it’s incredibly effective for fast-paced lecture classes when you don’t have enough time to organize your notes according to one of the other methods. Additionally, the name of this method may be a bit misleading since you can also use bullet points to write sentence fragments and achieve an identical effect. Sentence fragments summarize the main ideas without writing an entire sentence with proper grammar and punctuation, so you’re not sacrificing content or efficiency.

My experience combining note-taking methods

Above are five note-taking methods that can help you learn how to take good notes. While it’ll likely take some trial and error to determine which method is the one for you, it’s definitely worth your time and effort. I remember trying out different ones before discovering what worked best for me, and I hope that by sharing how I learned how to take good notes and how to take smart notes, you can also take what I’ve learned and apply it to your note-taking strategies and habits.

Based on the different methods summarized above, the Sentence Method most closely aligns with my approach because it is quick and easy to use and can be a great jumping-off point to incorporate other note-taking methods. My college classes are typically lectures, where professors often speak fast and inundate students with dense and critical information. This environment can be challenging to take effective, efficient, and comprehensive notes. Therefore, I like the Sentence Method because it’s relatively unstructured. It doesn’t require specific formatting set up ahead of time or on the day of class that some of the other methods do. It is also not strictly limited to sentences; I use it to write down words, phrases, and main ideas. 

Augment your notes

While I primarily discussed how to take notes in the context of popular note-taking methods, it’s also important to develop ways to augment your notes. You can use other people to help supplement your notes. Your peers and coworkers are essential resources, but they’re often underutilized. Communicating and collaborating with them is a simple but effective way to take good notes and elevate them to smart notes. Consult with others to learn about their ways of learning, note-taking, and synthesizing material. After all, two heads are better than one, so the more people you interact with, the more you can expand your knowledge and deepen your understanding.

Instantly create outline-style notes with Summari

Note-taking can be an incredibly time-intensive activity. So, if you don’t have the time, Summari is ready to help. Summari generates outline-style notes for virtually any text or article in seconds. By using Summari, you save valuable time that would otherwise be spent reading the entire text, going back to identify details, and finally organizing and writing up your notes. Summari does this for you instantaneously and provides concise headers and detailed bullet points to maximize your knowledge intake and increase efficiency. If you’re interested in improving your note-taking experience, sign up and try Summari today.

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