Taking Better Notes: 5 Effective Strategies for Students

Note-taking is a vital, handy tool in school and later in life. It helps keep you alert, organized, and focused on what you’re listening to. It basically forces you to pay attention so you know what to write down. People who take better notes often remember specific details better than those who only listen.

In one study at Ohio University, researchers found students who regularly took notes scored 13% higher on tests than students who didn’t write information down in class.

5 Types of Note-Taking

Different note-taking strategies aren’t always taught in the classroom and sometimes students need help understanding why it’s so important and the best ways to go about it. In this blog, we’ll explain five different note-taking strategies to set your student up for success.

1. Freestyle Method

Freestyle note-taking consists of writing down everything that you hear, in any format. It is a great method for students who need to quickly jot down notes and have time to process the information later. However, freestyle note-taking can be very disorganized and hard to study.

2. Outline Method

Many students have better luck staying organized with the outline method. This consists of writing a heading (the main topic), subheadings, and details under each subheading. The outline method is great for students who are able to synthesize information while listening to the teacher. 

Better note taking the outline method

Brianna Bown, M.Ed., a virtual tutor at Educational Connections, says when students use the outline method their notes are already organized and simple to skim through, which makes it easier to study.

“If you have a student who likes the freestyle method, then they can take their notes and later put them into the outline method,” explained Brown.

3. Cornell Note Method

This is a research-based method, that’s best for middle, high school, and college students. The Cornell method helps students connect everything they are writing to a question

“Teachers love to see that students are thinking from a question-based perspective because they’re going to be asked a ton of questions on tests and in class. So if they organize their thought process, it’s going to keep them stay on task.”

To use the Cornell Method, students can draw two simple columns with one merged column on the bottom. The key ideas or terms should be written in the left column and all of the important details related to the main ideas should go in the right column. 

The bottom section is reserved for a summary. Here the student should reflect on what they have just learned in their own words.

“You can take various notes, but if you don’t sit down and analyze it, of what it means to you, it’s not going to be effective. Because you can write it down and then it’s out of your brain.”

4. Creative Note-Taking Methods

Many visual learners enjoy taking their freestyle notes and turning them into colorful drawings or illustrations. These are great strategies for students who love to be creative.

To make a web, students can write the topic in the center and have subheadings branch off from it. When creating a mind map, students can write the main ideas and connect them with keywords, details, and pictures. Both methods can help draw connections between ideas and concepts.

5. Digital Note-Taking Methods

For many students, notetaking has moved from a notebook to a laptop. The benefits of digital note-taking include easy organization and a smaller chance of losing notes after class.

However, there are many studies including this one that found students are often more distracted in class when using a digital device to take notes. Also, it’s much easier to try to type everything you hear. Researchers found that taking verbatim digital notes can reduce how much a student remembers compared to when they paraphrase while writing by hand.

There’s a variety of programs students can use to take digital notes, including Microsoft’s OneNote and Google Docs.

Note.ly a virtual post-it note board that does not require a subscription. It allows students to easily create a note for each topic, which they can type or draw on. They can then drag and drop the notecards in order of importance. For example, they can move cards that contain information they already know to the bottom of the pile and move everything they need to focus on to the top. 

note.ly in use during a tutoring session
Note.ly can be a great tool during virtual tutoring sessions, as illustrated here by an Educational Connections academic coach.

Important Notes on Better Note-Taking 

No matter the method of notetaking, it’s always important for students to watch someone model the process. This shows the student the proper way to organize notes and includes a thorough explanation of the thought process they can use in class. 

Students should also get in the habit of:

  • Paraphrasing– Put information into your own words to reinforce the meaning.
  • Using abbreviations– It’s okay to abbreviate and write in incomplete sentences as long as you can understand what you wrote.
  • Using main ideas, supporting details, and bullet points– This helps keep the notes organized.
  • Highlighting/color coding and underlining- This can help with memorization, but don’t overdo it and use too many colors or lines.
  • Drawing pictures or using photos- Drawing a picture of the topic or adding a digital photo (while digital notetaking) can be an effective way to help with memorization.
  • Including the date and page numbers– This will help the student keep track of their notes.

Teaching Healthy Note-Taking Habits

Getting in the habit of keeping concise, well-organized notes will make reviewing and studying that much easier. And the benefits of developing great note-taking skills will extend well beyond the classroom. 

If your student needs help learning to take better notes and to keep organized, our executive function coaches are here to help.