Mar 04, 2016
5 Note Taking Methods

I owe much of my success in high school and college to organization. I organized my clothes so I could find them easily in the morning and get that ten extra minutes of sleep. I organized my notebooks in my locker so I didn’t lose anything important for class. I organized and color coded my notes so I could find key information and study it. There is evidence color coding helps. Organizing my notes probably was the single biggest contributor to my success in high school. It took a lot of trial and error (which cost me on some quizzes), but I eventually found a method that worked best for my learning style and stuck with it.

5 Methods for Organizing Notes

The whole point of taking notes is so you can remember which material is being covered in class. If notes are disorganized this process can be frustrating and ineffective. Not all note taking styles work for everyone and the most important thing to do is to try different styles and see which one works best for you.

No matter what method you use there are some universal rules for note taking. Stick with key words, phrases and short sentences. Try not to write down every exact word your teacher is saying, but put the information in your own words. Develop a short-hand for common terms and phrases to help you capture information quickly. Try to review your notes as soon as possible after class while the information is till fresh in your mind. Always write something down if the lecturer says it will be on the test, if the information is repeated more than one time, anything written on the board, or in a PowerPoint, and anything repeated slowly so that you have time to record what is being said.

Five methods you can use in a lecture or at home:

The Cornell Method

Draw a vertical line down the left side of the paper, about 2.5 inches to the left and 6 inches to the right, and draw a horizontal line about 2 inches from the bottom of the paper. Take notes in the right portion of the page, write the main idea and key questions on the left column, and summarize the notes in the bottom portion. Use bullets and make sure separate concepts are separated by a line. Test your self by hiding the right side of the page and leaving the left side in sight.


The Outlining Method

Make a standard outline of the material. The first level is for topics. The next level relates to the topic above. The advantage to this method is its is easy to review and is well organized. The disadvantage is it requires thinking during the presentation to organize information and doesn’t work well for a lecture that moves at a quick pace.


The Charting Method

Set up a table giving each topic covered in class its own column. Populate the chart with keywords and main ideas for each category. The advantage of this method is the material is easy to review. This method is recommended when a lot of material is presented that involves people and dates, like in a history class for example.


The Sentence Method

Write every new thought or topic on a separate line and number each sentence. The advantage of this method is it’s more organized than writing paragraphs and still records most of the information. The disadvantages are it’s hard to determine major/minor points and it’s hard to edit and review. This is a good method when there’s lots of information and you don’t how ideas fit together.


The Mapping Method

Write a central idea in the center and link supporting information with a line to that central idea. The lines can come out of the central idea from every direction so eventually the central idea is surrounded by supporting information.




While she doesn’t believe in destiny, it’s hard to believe it’s a coincidence she was voted “Most Likely to Write an Advice Column” in high school. Corrie is the resident career advisor at Inventing Heron and also a Career and Internship Advisor at the University of Rhode Island where she works with undergraduate to PhDs students to achieve their career goals. When she’s not career advising, Corrie can be found indulging in a new book, practicing yoga, or embarking on a new adventure to explore the world.