Different Note-Taking Methods-pros, cons, and how-tos

I think we’ve all been there: we make our notes for class, hoping that they’ll help us during our looming exams only to look back at them and realise, wow these are useless and change our style for the eighth time this year…Don’t worry, I’ve got you.

As someone who used to change her note-taking style at least eighty times…a term…I’ll be the first to tell you that trying to reconcile your old notes with your new notes is no picnic, unless, of course, picnics have started to include massive amounts of anxiety, stress and tears since I last heard.

They don’t? Great, thanks for telling me.

Check it out: Using Essentialism to make my goals matter

Outline Method

I adore the outline method with my heart and soul and use it in combination with the boxing method to take notes for all of my subjects which are a variety of memorisation and S.T.E.M.

Not only do I find my notes to be more organised, concise, and aesthetic but also that I understand the content and the relationships between everything much better despite spending less time making my notes.

This method is extremely simple and works using a series of bulleted points and various levels of headings.

You write in your main headings and begin with your main bullet point, write it in and move on to the next bullet. Any supporting details, ideas, concepts of anything to expand on beneath a main bulleted point all you do is create a new bullet below it, indenting it further to the right this time, this can be continued on as necessary to show hierarchy, and each time there is a development in information you can keep adding indented bullets, a little bit further to right each time you do.

The outline method is concise which improves readability, and makes the information easier to sift through, understand and memorise; this method also shows hierarchy and the relationships between concepts. This makes the information easier to understand while also highlighting focal points. I also love this method because of its neat, organised and simple structure-the bulleted points create a clean and consistent look that’s almost ridiculously easy to set up.

However, a lot of people find this method unsuitable for S.T.E.M. subjects though I never had too big of a problem with this even before combining the outline and boxing methods.

Cornell Notes Method

This one is probably one of the most famous if not the most famous, note-taking system out there. And while I’ve seen this method all across the internet, this method seems to be either adored or loathed-with me falling into the latter category.

To use this method you split your page into four: the main row for the heading and details such as the class, date, and corresponding textbook pages, next you create a small column on the left of the page which is used for keywords and concepts, definitions, formulae and constants as well questions you have, with the large right column general notes are written. Finally, in a box at the bottom of the page, the notes are summarised.

A lot of people adore the method as it encourages active learning by requiring you to think about the material as an integral part of the structure is writing your own questions, and summaries and identifying keywords and summaries*. Another reason for the popularity is that the summary section makes it easy to review and finally the rigid structure provides organisation.

*I personally feel that you can do this with any method though.

On the flip side, it can be time-consuming to create the note-taking format for each page and may become cramped if you have to record a lot of information or have large handwriting as well as being rigid and inflexible.

Boxing Method

I already mentioned that I use this method in conjunction with the outline method to make my notes more aesthetic and highlight formulas and constants for S.T.E.M. subjects.

The Boxing Method is a visual note-taking method that involves drawing boxes around key information. You can use different colours, shapes, and symbols to create a visual map of the information which makes it quite aesthetic.

(And yes, I do place a lot of importance on aesthetics.)

Like the outline method, this method is super simple but equally as effective.

I use a hybrid of this method with the outline method and so I do split my page into sections and draw attention to especially important information or formulas and constants by adding a separate box around it.

It’s a useful method for organizing information and making it easier to review later.

Boxing is an extremely simple and straightforward method that’s easy to use, though again, it depends on how you want to view your notes and the complexity. This method is also great for helping you recall information and is amazingly adaptable to different learning styles and subjects and is a generally more flexible and creative notetaking method. Potential cons are that depending on your set up it could take longer to set up and apparently it’s not suitable for all types of information.

Charting Method

This is another great note-taking method for visual learners and anyone who likes to see information in a table view.

To take notes using the charting method you create a table of rows and columns wherein each column represents a different concept-though this can be turned on its head to have the rows represent different concepts.

Notes taken with this method tend to be really easy to review and summarise, though charting may not work to capture complex information and the tables can be time-consuming to draw all the time and the structure can cause your notes to become messy and cramped.

However, it’s a great notetaking method if you’re a visual learner and/or need to categorise and compare information.

Mapping Method

Another visual note-taking method!

With the mapping method, you draw a diagram that kinda looks like a web in the end, to take your notes. You start with a central idea or topic and then branch out into sub-topics or details related to that idea with each sub-topic and lower-level idea “branching” out of the bigger branch.

Really I think it’s better to think of it as a tree than a web.

It’s great for organizing information and making connections between different ideas with a lot of room for flexibility and creativity but keep in mind that you might have difficulty reviewing notes with this method in a time crunch, and it can become confusing and cramped. It’s also not ideal for capturing bulky information or content-heavy classes.

I personally recommend this method for summaries and for S.T.E.M. and application classes where you want to highlight relationships and concepts between topics and subtopics with a little jazz.

Matrix Method

This is actually a notetaking method for research. Like the charting method, you use a table to take your notes. Each row represents a different concept or category, and each column represents a sub-topic or detail related to the main topic.

It’s awesome for capturing a lot of information and organizing it in a way that’s easy to review. The pros of this method are that it’s great for organizing complex information, and it’s easy to review later. The cons are that it can be time-consuming to create a matrix, and it may not be suitable for capturing information quickly.

My Thoughts and Favourites

Note-taking is an essential part of learning, and different methods work for different people. These (and many other notetaking systems out there) are all excellent ways to capture and organize information.

When you choose your notetaking method (or methods!) consider your learning style, the type of class you’re taking notes for, and how you want to review it later. When you find and use the right note-taking method for yourself your life will be way easier-you’ll enjoy taking your notes more, find reviewing them easier, and better understand and retain the information.

And while it is a royal annoyance to switch your notetaking system in the middle of the year if it’s not working, it’s not working and is 100% okay to switch. Do what works for you!

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