Here's the Best Note-Taking Strategies for Each Type of Class

Here's the Best Note-Taking Strategies for Each Type of Class

Although most of us aren’t too fond of the activity, we spend a lot of our time in college taking notes. Whether you’re trying to get down everything your professor says in lecture, or you’re studying straight from the textbook, here are some of the best note-taking tactics that won’t just make it easy for you to review the information: they’ll help you learn as you go!

Strategy #1: Outline

Are you taking notes from a textbook or a PowerPoint presentation? Then this is the strategy for you! When the concept you’re learning is linear, or involves many headings with several details, outlining keeps you super organized.

At times, however, it can be difficult to outline while keeping up with your professors’ lectures, so it may be beneficial to download their visual presentation beforehand, and do a rough sketch of your outline prior to class starting. Alternatively, you can use outlining as a way to study what you just learned by reorganizing your notes into one after the lecture!


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Strategy #2: Concept Web

Are you talking about a lot of broad, unrelated concepts? Do you think better in abstract pictures than in a linear flow? Try using a concept web!

There are several different ways of creating a web, from literally making circles and connecting them with lines, to just having several “clouds” of thoughts floating around the page. Depending on what works for you, it may be better to do this one on unlined paper, or with several different colors!

The point is that you aren’t restricted by the rules of outlining or another method – you are free to connect your concepts however makes sense to you!


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Strategy #3: Cornell Method

This is one of the most popular methods of note-taking, and it’s often taught in schools and orientation classes as one of the best.

This strategy involves dividing your paper into three sections: first, draw a line near the bottom of the page (leave about five lines of space) to divide your sheet into two parts. Then, divide what is now the top section of the page into two columns, with a thinner one on the left, and a thicker one on the right. When taking notes, you will essentially use the outline method with the big column on the right, and on the left, you’ll write key words or questions that you have. This helps you find the information when you need it later. Finally, at the end of the lecture, you’ll summarize the page in the bottom section.

This works best if you have a lot of notes - or a disorganized professor - but you still want to outline!


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Strategy #4: Side-By-Side

Perfect for math, language, or music students, this strategy is fairly similar to the Cornell Method, but it’s used a little differently.

You’ll divide your paper down the middle vertically, and use the two sides together. If you’re a math student, you may put an example problem in the left column, and the steps to solving it on the right. If you’re in a foreign language class, you may want one column to be translations of the other. Essentially, if you are ever comparing two concepts, or you have a need to draw diagrams on one side that need to be explained on the other, this is a great way to go!


If you prefer to take notes on your tablet or computer, you can still use most of these strategies! With a little set-up, you can make a word processor template with two columns, for the Cornell Method and the Side-By-Side, or use pre-existing templates to make an Outline. There are even programs that allow you to make webs online, or you can get a free-drawing app to work right on your tablet.

Whichever note-taking strategy you choose, make sure you make it personal to you by adding your own shorthand and putting things in your own words, and feel free to adapt any of these tactics to better suit your learning style. Making it yours makes the information a lot easier to remember, and it’ll help you make sense of everything when you go back to study for the big test!

Related: 5 Simple Ways to Study Smarter