My Note-Taking Style

One of the most common questions I get from incoming first years is “how do you take notes?” My answer to this question is always something like “well…you figure it out!”

The truth is, everyone has their own style for note-taking, and what works for one may not work for another. It took me years to pin down my note-taking style, but eventually I found a method that works well for me.

When I started my first year, I would take my laptop with me to class and try to furiously type out everything the professor said. Not only was this very difficult (I can type fast, but not that fast!), but I found that when I went to study, the notes I had were dense and not all that useful.

Next, I tried to take point-form notes on my laptop. This was a little easier, both when it came to keeping up with the instructions and studying afterwards, but I struggled with what to write down and knowing what was important. Another problem with taking notes on my computer was that I found it difficult when I had to draw graphs, equations, or special symbols.

In my second year, I learned that there are studies that say that taking notes with pen and paper help more with learning than taking notes on a computer, so I thought I’d give that a try.

I bought a couple of notebooks and brought them with me to class. This was better, but I found that my inner perfectionist was annoyed with the messy scrawl that resulted from trying to write quickly during lectures. I also found that sometimes I couldn’t read my own handwriting (which is usually so neat), and I was missing out on some information.

I knew that I had to figure out some new strategy, but just asking people how they took notes didn’t help me – I found that many people were just doing what I was. So what was I going to do?

The answer came from an old professor of mine. She recommended re-writing notes as a study strategy. I figured, hey, why not re-write notes after class? I started writing out my notes on a yellow pad of paper during lectures, and then re-writing those notes neatly into my notebook when class is over. This way, it didn’t matter that my initial notes were messy, and my inner perfectionist could make the final notes as neat and tidy (and even colour-coded!) as my heart desired.

This is also helpful when I’m taking notes off slides that professors post on CourseSpaces – instead of scrambling to write down every word, I can refer back to the slides afterwards and add my own notes. Sometimes when I’m re-writing my notes, I find that I can figure out something that I may not have understood in class.

The only downside to this note-taking strategy was that I hated wasting paper. When I took the rough notes in class, I would do it on scrap paper, then once they were transcribed into my notebook, I would recycle the paper. This problem was solved by my dad, who got me an iPad for my birthday two years ago. Thanks, Dad! Now I use an app where I can hand-write notes on my iPad using a stylus, then transcribe after class into my notebook.

This rather elaborate note-taking system works tremendously well for me. I find that my notes are tidy, comprehensive, and easy to understand. I don’t waste paper. I have a built-in chance to review after class. It may not be the right style for everyone, but it works wonders for me!

What’s your note-taking style? Let me know in the comments!



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1 Response

  1. Thiago says:

    That is an advanced technique! I hope you are still using it.