The Study Dude—Other Methods of Note Taking

You’ve got to take notes on a lecture or textbook, but you don’t particularly like the note-taking system I outlined last week? No fear.  This article will fill you in on some alternative note-taking systems, perhaps one that works best for your learning style.

Last week, I covered taking notes using my personal system, which is like the Cornell system.  In the Cornell system, you draw a vertical line down your page, approximately at the 1/3rd width point of the paper.  You then write keywords along with summary words in the left-hand margin.  And you take notes on the right-hand side on what is being discussed.  But at the bottom of the page you leave space to summarize succinctly the content, perhaps filled in after the lecture.

If you are striving for an A+, systems for note-taking matter.

The only ingredients needed for this recipe are multiple high-quality (Bic) pens, a red pen, backup sharp pencils, a pencil sharpener, two or three high quality erasers (the white rubbery ones), a ruler, and lots of paper (ideally a full store bought package of blank lined paper in your notebook at all times, one notebook for each class.)

Here are some systems for taking notes:

  • Try the Cornell system mentioned above or the system I outlined in last week’s article. (My system outlined last week is similar to the Cornell system.) I like the Cornell system or my system mostly for taking lecture notes.  But for taking notes based on books, the next set of systems might work best.
  • One such system is to use mind maps. With mind maps, you write the key idea in a circle and stem out to new circles that contain subordinate ideas to the key idea, a line connecting key idea circles to subordinate idea circles.  And you branch out from these subordinate ideas with sub-subordinate ideas.  I like this system, but I wouldn’t rely on it as my main method of note-taking.  I’d combine the mind maps into the margins outlined in either the Cornell system or my system discussed last week.  Or I’d combine the mind maps with one of the next two systems.
  • One other system is to put a rectangular box around the key point and place bullet points underneath that square box. And repeat for every new idea.
  • Perhaps the simplest system is to create bullet points where layers of subordinate ideas are indented. It would have a structure as follows:
    • Key idea
      • Subordinate idea #1
      • Subordinate idea #2
        • Sub-subordinate idea #1 (I know “sub-subordinate” isn’t technically a word, but this is a call to Oxford to include it in the next dictionary edition).
      • Use a combination of the methods above. This approach is probably the most ideal.  It might work best to combine the Cornell system or the system I outlined last week with mind maps or boxed-in key points or bullet points.
      • Lastly, I saw a system that took one’s notes for a topic, and regularly condensed them until they were tighter and tighter, perhaps doing this once a week. The end result would be a great, succinct, well-organized, well-structured set of notes come exam time.  I tried this system, but wondered what I should do with all the prior notes? Perhaps store them all together and place a divider between each different topics’ series of condensed notes? Also, I wondered if the end product may be too tight, missing relevant information.  If you come up with a great system for storing these notes, let The Voice Magazine know

Once you learn the tips for note-taking, you’ve got an edge.

But how do you properly read the textbook in the first place?  That, my friend, is the subject of another Cookbook.