How to Take Notes in Class

There are many methods to taking notes. No method is right for every student, and no method is right for every class, but if you explore the different ways to take notes, you will find what works best for you.

Outline Method

The Outline Method consists of taking notes by writing the most important points or main ideas of the lecture on the left side of the page. Subtopics and supporting details are subsequently indented, just like a traditional outline.

I. Main topic 1
  A. Subtopic 1
    1. Detail 1
    2. Detail 2
    3. Detail 3
  B. Subtopic 2

When you use the outline method, it is easy to see what the main ideas of the lecture are. You can also clearly see the relationships among points. In addition, you can easily study by turning main points into questions. For example, ask the question, “What are three examples of Subtopic 1?” The Outline Method is good for many types of lectures. However, you must be able to organize thoughts and topics quickly when using this method. Lectures that require fast note taking do not allow time to think about organization, and therefore the Outline Method may not be the best choice.

Cornell Method

To use the Cornell Method, divide the paper into three sections. During the lecture, write notes in the right column. After class, develop questions based on the notes, and write them in the left column. Also, summarize the content of the page at the bottom.

Picture of Cornell Method Page Setup

Next, cover the note taking column, and answer the questions in the left column aloud. Then reflect on the material by asking additional questions such as “What do these facts mean? How can they be applied in situations? How do they fit in with what I already know?” Finally, spend a minimum of ten minutes each week reviewing all previous notes. Repeated reviewing of the material will help with retention.

Mind Map Method

The Mind Map Method uses images to link ideas. To create a mind map, you will need a blank piece of unlined paper, colored pens, and the ability to channel your inner Charles Schultz. Start by writing the main topic in the center of the page. Use colored pens to draw lines coming from the main idea, representing subtopics. Use simple cartoons and two- to three-word phrases to fill in details. Don’t worry about how good or bad your drawing is. Our minds think in pictures, so images remain with us longer than notes. Putting pen to paper (instead of using a computer) and organizing thoughts in your own way help cement the ideas into your brain.

Mind Map Example

Flow Method

The Flow Method is similar to mind mapping in that it uses fewer words and more pictures. However, there are some significant differences. The Flow Method helps you remember more information while it is being delivered rather than as a way to organize ideas at a later time. To use the Flow Method, write down major ideas and connect them with bubbles, arrows, boxes, and other shapes that make sense to you. While using this method may be helpful to the creator, it is not particularly good for sharing notes because only big points, not entire sentences, are written in the notes.  

Flow Method Example

Split Page Method

To use the Split Page Method, divide your paper into two columns. Write main ideas in the first column and supporting ideas in the second column. Watch the instructor for cues about main ideas, and be sure to record whatever is written on the board. This system allows you to organize your ideas while you take notes.

Split Page Example

From: The Complete Study Skills Website
Cornell University
Exam Time
Learning Fundamentals
Missouri State University
Scott H. Young Blog
Sid Savara Blog






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