Taking notes is a habit that’s directly correlated with educational success. Studies show that taking notes leads to at least 13% better test results than not doing so. It can also help people concentrate better on the topic by tapping into their creativity and improving their memory recall.
Unfortunately, note taking is a skill that most students have to learn without any significant guidance because few courses encourage or teach students how to effectively take notes. If you’re reading this, however, that means you’ve taken the initiative to get familiar with the major types of notes and how to take them.
By the end of this article, you should be familiar with different note taking techniques and be able to choose the perfect one for you!
1. Outline Technique
A popular type of note taking technique is outlining. A lot of students start off with this method and just customize it as needed. Some people also call it the Two Column Technique.
In the outline technique, you start by writing the main topic of a particular lesson. You can then write subtopics under the main topic, which helps you arrange the information in a logical manner.
For example, your topic for today’s science lesson is the digestive system. If you follow the outline technique, you can write at least two main topics about the subject: first, the parts of the digestive system, and second, the functions of the digestive system.
For the first main topic, the subtopics can be the different organs included in the digestive system. There’s the mouth, the stomach, the large intestine, the small intestine, and so on. The subtopics then let you make in-depth notes about the organs. For example — what exactly does the stomach do? What’s the difference between the small and large intestines?
You can use keywords for each subtopic for easy recall. Once you have an outline, you can avoid getting overwhelmed by tons of information. It also helps you remember data quickly. This is perfect if you have a hard time committing information to memory.
The outline technique is also perfect for quick organization. Most students use this type of note taking while listening to a lecture. Since the method is so simple, you can take notes while keeping up with your teacher.
2. Cornell Method
The Cornell note taking method became popular in the 1950s. It’s a more detailed version of the outline technique. Cornell’s method includes writing down key points, but the method encourages a “big picture” note.
There are three parts to the Cornell Method: the cue words, the actual notes, and the summary.
Let’s use the same example given above. Your main topic is parts of the digestive system. This time, however, you need to understand more complicated concepts.
The cue word is the “mouth,” where digestion starts. Your actual notes would be the different parts of the mouth like the teeth, the gums, the tongue, the soft palate, hard palate, uvula, tonsil, and so on. Also included in your notes would be the function of each of those parts. For example, the tonsil works by preventing germs and infections from entering the body. To keep things simple, use bullet points, numbers, and indentations.
Finally, you have the summary. This can be a general sentence that gives you a description of everything you’ve written down. For example, your summary could be: the digestive system keeps the body supplied with energy through food.
The Cornell Method best works for lessons or subjects that encompass a large amount of information. It’s a good technique if you want to organize data and have a quick recall. If you’re tackling complicated subjects, this is better than the outline technique because you can still keep up with the lecture while keeping your notes organized.
3. Flow Chart
The flow chart is a type of note taking technique for processes. Use this if you want to follow the movement of information from one phase to the next. You will have to draw arrows, lines, graphs, and diagrams to create connections between different processes and information.
Again, we’re using the digestive system as an example. You can write the word “mouth,” draw an arrow going to “esophagus,” and then another arrow going to “stomach.” You can repeat this technique until you reach the end of the process.
Flowcharts are perfect if you want a “big picture” look at something. It can work as an outline before or after the lesson, but definitely not during. If you create a flowchart before the lesson, it’s easier to follow a lecture and make additional side notes. After the lesson, a flowchart helps you organize the lecture for better understanding.
If you make flowcharts during the lecture, you might miss a few things and still need to fill in the gaps afterward. Most students use flow charts to review because they now have a bigger picture of the entire subject.
It simply means that since schools usually approach topics one at a time, so, you might talk about the digestive system for Week One and the nervous system for Week Two. Now let’s say that your midterm exam will cover the digestive system and the nervous system. A flowchart helps you connect the dots between the different lessons you learned during those two weeks. This way, you have a visual summary that covers everything in one convenient note.
4. Charting Method
The Charting Method is a type of note taking technique used for comparison purposes. Charting lets you place information side by side so you can differentiate one from the other.
You can find various examples of this technique in historical subjects. Let’s say you’re studying the history of the United States. In one column, you can write down the name of a president. The next column can contain the years they were president, while the next column can list down the significant things that happened during their presidency.
It works a lot like a Flow Chart, but you can quickly compare what one president did versus another. You can also use the Charting Method for more in-depth discussions or lessons. Using a chart, you can make comparisons between estrogen and testosterone, Microsoft versus Apple, and so on. Small differences can be quickly highlighted using a chart so you can quickly distinguish one from another.
5. Mind Mapping Method
Mind Mapping is a bit more complicated than the others. It’s a very flexible technique that you can use for learning, memorizing, understanding new concepts, and even coming up with new ideas. Studies show that students who use Mind Mapping techniques have higher exam scores compared to those who don’t use the method.
You use Mind Mapping for subjects where the topics have a strong relationship with each other. Unlike the Flow Chart, where the information only goes one way, Mind Maps can be all over the place. A good example would be tracking the body’s process as a whole. Food goes in the mouth, travels to the stomach, and moves to the intestines.
It can be the large intestine or the small intestine. If it goes to the large intestine, it proceeds to exit the body through the anus. But what if it goes to the small intestine? Then it is redirected back to the body and distributed as vitamins and minerals.
A Mind Mapping method lets you organize all the different functions in one convenient diagram. For example, it doesn’t just stop with the large intestine. Your Mind Map can also detail how other parts of the body interact with the food as it goes in. This includes hormones released, enzymes that break down the food, parts of the intestine that absorb nutrients, and so on.
All the complex ideas come together for cross-border understanding. Simply put, a Flow Chart can help you understand a single system, while the Mind Map will tell you how each system works with the other.
Mind Mapping is the go-to note taking technique for complex information. You can usually find them in physics, sciences, and chemistry. They usually involve drawings, lines, arrows, and bullet points that make them perfect for visual learners.
What’s the best note taking technique? Your choice depends on two things:
- Your personal preference
- The kind of information you’re trying to take down.
We suggest familiarizing yourself with each type of note taking as discussed above and then choosing the best one that suits you and your requirements.