How to Take Better Notes/Be a Better Note-Taker

Many of us have fond memories of our hands cramping up from furiously taking notes in class, but note-taking is an important skill that goes beyond the classroom. If you need to remember something important, or you need to be able to reference it later, then taking good notes is a great skill to have. Here’s how you can make the most of your notes and be a better note-taker:

  1.     Pick out the important stuff– Everybody knows what it’s like to go through notes with a highlighter, and then step back and realize the whole page is gleaming bright yellow. Chances are, that’s because you wrote too much. Having too much to focus on actually means you’re focusing on less. The fix? Only pick out the most important points as someone is speaking. Pick out the big headings on PowerPoints or the most important conversation topics and make them into corresponding bullet points.
  2.     Focus on themes– Finding an underlying theme in a lesson, conversation, speech, or presentation can be extremely helpful in identifying what you need to know. Not only will your notes flow better, but you’ll know what extraneous information you can leave out that would be cluttering the important stuff.
  3.     Find your own style/method– Not everybody benefits from looking at dozens of bullet points on a page. In fact, there are many different kinds of learners, and each type benefits from a different style of note-taking. Some of the most popular types of note-taking are making outlines, and using a mind map. Outlines are a game of hierarchy. Start with large, big-picture ideas, and then create subheadings, and finally, smaller details. Mapping is a non-linear method of note-taking that is great for more visual people. You can start in the center of the page and build a word or idea cloud from there, branching out with more topics or details. Whatever your method, make sure it works for you.
  4.     Stay organized– Half of being able to interpret, understand, and commit notes to memory is about being (and staying) organized. Notes do no good if they’re thrown in the bottom of your bag and kept out of order! Keep all of your notes in a folder, binder, or some other system that allows you to go back and read previous notes without getting overwhelmed or confused. Date each set of notes as well to make this process easier.
  5.     Summarize– Being able to digest the information you’ve heard is extremely important, but being able to summarize and restate it is even better. After a presentation or course, take 10 minutes to summarize what you’ve learned and write down the main takeaways.
  6.     Reflect and review– Reflection is an important step in the note-taking process. After summarizing your notes, review them with a method that works for you. Some people prefer highlighting, while others prefer making notecards, or sticking Post-it notes to places in their notes with additional thoughts or questions.

Note-taking doesn’t have to be stressful, and it doesn’t have to be time-consuming either. Don’t get overwhelmed and leave more confused than you came—take the time to stay organized, pick out the important stuff, and review afterwards to ensure you’re absorbing all of the information you need.

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