Note-taking techniques

It is easy to forget to remember

The ability to remember, reproduce, and reflect on the subject matter is an important part of studying. You can easily forget what you just heard in the classroom or read in a book. Therefore, it is important that you have some way of noting and processing all the knowledge you receive during your study.


Why take notes?

When you take notes, it helps you remember what you have learnt and improve your understanding.

Notes are more than mere pieces of paper you can pull out of the drawer and use before an exam. Note-taking is also a way to store and remember what you learn.

Taking notes also keeps you focused during class and prevents your mind from wandering.

In addition, it promotes the processing of the material and provides an overview. Notes help you understand what you hear or read because you engage with the material and underline the most important points.

"Notes store your knowledge. You remember the material much better!"
"Notes keep you focused"

"Notes help you to process the material and understand the important points"

Notes during class

How do I take notes during class?

It is always worthwhile to take notes while listening to the teacher. All research points out that taking notes has a positive impact on your learning. When you take notes, you activate existing knowledge of the subject and you process the material while taking notes. This means that you have a better chance of understanding what you are being taught, and at the same time it helps you remember what the teaching was about.

When you take notes, it is a good idea to use your own words. This way you can better relate to what you are writing down. It is, however, important that you always write down key concepts. Also, use abbreviations to save time and get more manageable notes. Focus on quality rather than quantity! Therefore, do not write everything down – think about what is important in relation to your subject.

"Select your material with care. Quality over quantity"
"Do not write everything down. Use your own words. Make it your own personal material"
"Use abbreviations and symbols to save time and make your notes clear"

Notes while reading

How do I take notes while reading?

Good reading notes means that you do not have to read the same text twice, because at the first reading, you marked the main passages and noted down the main points.

The better your notes are, the better prepared you are for classes and exams. It may be a good idea to write notes in the margin. Briefly write down what a specific section is about, or if you have any questions about the text which you need to look into. You can also choose to highlight particularly important words and phrases or use post-it notes to divide the book into important and less important sections.

"Write your notes in the margin"
"Highlight important passages and concepts"
"Use post-it notes to divide the book"

Note-taking techniques

Do i need to take notes on the computer or by hand?

There are many different note-taking techniques, but in general they fall into two groups: handwritten notes and digital notes.

One of the obvious advantages of writing notes by hand is that most people find themselves less restricted compared to writing digital notes - not least if you use visual notes in the form of symbols.

You may benefit from handwritten notes if you are easily distracted by social media, games and the like.

Some studies also show that you remember the subject matter much better if you write notes by hand. However, it can be hard to keep track of, edit or search your paper notes. In addition, there are software available in which you can combine handwritten notes with digital notes.

"Note-taking by hand feels more free"
"Digital notes are easy to organise"
"Digital notes are not ideal if you are easily distracted"

Sketch notes

Can I draw my notes?

Graphical notes and visual representations can be used to explain complicated contexts. There are different ways of taking graphical notes. Common to them all is that you do not need to be an artist to add some visual elements to your notes.
If you are going to illustrate a process, for instance, or trying to get an overview of a course of events, a simple timeline can be a good visualisation tool.

A tree diagram is another example of how to quickly and easily illustrate a hierarchical structure, say, an organisation, or a process with multiple branches.

A simple mind map may also be useful to clarify relations between a keyword and related topics and concepts.

"Do not spend time on ‘nice’ and detailed drawing"
"Create your own solid graphical symbols"
"Use mind maps, timelines, and tree diagrams for a better visual overview"