Taking notes may not be an exciting topic, but it is a key to college success. Good notes not only help you remember important information, but the act of writing things down can be more effective for learning than reading or hearing a lecture alone.
That said, the key is taking good notes. You need to get the important points down in a format that you can review and be able to find the key points quickly.
I once had an instructor that would write notes in different areas of the whiteboard with no structure, and then erase random parts to add more notes. If your notes look like that whiteboard, you may need some help.
I have always preferred taking notes on paper, but some people prefer a laptop or tablet. Try both and see which works best for you. There are also different methods to organize your notes so you can find what you need.
If your instructor will allow you to use a laptop or tablet in class, taking notes on it can work great. Not all instructors allow computers during lectures, so this may be a class by class option.
Notes on your laptop will always be legible, at least better than what some of us call handwriting. Organizing your notes is also easier on a computer than in a notebook and it’s easier to keep track of one laptop rather than multiple notebooks. If you can type fast, your laptop may be a great option for you.
There are a couple of great programs for taking and organizing notes.
- Evernote is a free application that syncs everything to your online account so it can’t be lost. You can even scan handwritten notes or handouts into Evernote.
- OneNote is part of the Microsoft Office Suite. It is great for organizing your notes and simulates paper notebooks but with search options.
Methods of Organizing Notes
Whether you choose to take your notes on your laptop or on paper, organization is key for getting the most out of your notes. There are different methods you can use, but there is no right or wrong if it works for you.
- Cornell notes are an easy way to keep your notes organized without having to recopy or rearrange them. Put a 2-3 inch margin on the left side of your paper. Take notes during lectures or reading on the right side. After class, review your notes and write topic, keywords, questions or cues on the left side. This method makes it easy to find key concepts quickly and you can then review the details.
- The Outlining method involves indenting different types of information. Main points are farthest left with supporting details indented underneath. This is a very organized way to take notes if you are good at it. It is easy to find the main points and then the details that go with. It can be hard to keep up with fast lectures when you are trying to get the information and organize it at the same time.
- The Mapping method works well for more visual learners. The connection between ideas is easy to see and you can add numbering or color coding when you review your notes. This method can be hard to organize during a lecture as you may not see the connections until reviewing notes.
Whether you choose to use a laptop or a notebook, Cornell notes or mapping, the goal is to have organized notes that help you learn, remember and review your class materials. Show up for class prepared, actively listen and take notes. College is a big commitment that will have a lasting impact on your career. Get the most out of your classes as possible.