In classrooms and lecture halls worldwide, millions of students—from elementary schools to the highest levels of collegiate research—bear the torch as our most consistent note-takers. While we’ve experienced massive technological shifts over the past four decades, the essence and methodology of note-taking remain largely intact. What used to be completely manual and time-consuming has now been streamlined to be more digital, paperless, and, most importantly, easy.
Whether scribbling shorthand in a notebook or capturing lecture notes on a laptop or mobile device, students still need to find ways to remember what professors said during class. What good are your notes if you can’t refer back to them while studying? That’s the whole goal, right?
Note-taking is essential to the learning process. That’s why finding the best note-taking system that works for you is so important.
Getting (and staying) organized
Life as a student can be messy, especially when you’re balancing all of your core classes with your extracurriculars and clubs. You want to head into the school year organized—and stay organized as you add more notes and projects to your workload.
The key is not only to have an organized space for your notes but also to have an organized note-taking system. How you manage your notes can significantly impact how well you can review them when it comes time to study.
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Finding a method to organize your school work is essential. But, just because one form of organization works for your friend and another technique works for you doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Organization, much like note-taking, is a personal preference.
Power tip: There’s nothing wrong with taking notes the traditional way—pen and paper. But taking notes with Evernote can help you level up your note-taking skills. With Evernote, you can create different notebooks for each class to keep everything in one place. Plus, you can build stacks of notebooks for each semester, year, or area of study.
Turning your notes into knowledge
As a student, you learn through repeated exposure to information. However, to really learn something, you need to continue reviewing the material. That’s why note-taking is so important.
Note-taking allows you to record important information when you’re learning in class or while you’re doing homework, review it when needed, and refer back to it later for exams, projects, and tests. Using smartphones, tablets, and laptops for note-taking can significantly improve learning.
When you’re taking notes, don’t worry about writing down everything word for word:
- Capture and record only the information you don’t know as well as details to support this new information.
- Identify and highlight the most important material and new information you’re learning.
- Review and study the information at a later time—set a reminder, so you don’t forget!
- Then, you can recall the information when it is needed, such as when you’re conducting more research, connecting ideas in a paper, or taking your exams.
Let’s approach this from a psychological perspective. To build a long-term memory, your mind goes through four stages: encoding, consolidation, storage, and retrieval. And interestingly, they mirror the phases of note-taking.
- Encoding – Writing down notes, listening to audio, seeing photographs, and the act of absorbing information.
- Consolidation – In this stage, your new memory gets stronger because you’re identifying the key insights and highlighting new insights.
- Storage – You can store your notes in a physical notebook using a pen and paper or a digital system like Evernote for easy review.
- Retrieval – Revisiting and reading your notes and the other information you’ve captured as you’re studying, applying your knowledge to a test, or using it in a real-world context.
Choosing the proper note taking systems
Note-taking is deeply personal. How you implement a particular method mirrors not only your productivity habits but also the way you think and your creative workflow. For some people, organizing information into outline formats and lists is the key to success. For others, it’s all about visual systems that help them see information in a new light.
No matter your system, the challenge is universal: How do you parse the noise, sift through information, and decide what’s important?
Though the process sounds complicated, there are two primary classifications of note-taking systems: linear and nonlinear. But the method you use depends on personal choice, the class environment you’re in, and the way your brain works. These are some common approaches—all of which you can easily implement in Evernote!
The Outline Method
The Outline Method is probably the most classic note-taking system. The Outline Method is traditionally a classic paper-and-pencil style of linear note-taking in which you capture information alongside Roman or Arabic numerals.
Its durability is part of its legacy—it works on paper, but it’s also extremely easy to adapt and implement digitally.
With a linear outline, you can also use bullet points or other characters and symbols. Get creative and organize your outline using whatever symbols work for you.
This tactic of note-taking works in almost any class setting and helps you record content quickly. In addition to capturing key points, it also helps you catalog and remember what the subtopics have to do with the bigger concepts. Because this style of note-taking aims to capture the most important parts of a lecture, it’s easy to turn your notes into questions you can use later to study for exams.
The Cornell Method
Originally invented in the 1950s at its namesake university, Cornell is considered by many to be the Cadillac of note-taking systems.
Broken down into three distinct sections, the Cornell system allows you to capture and retrieve information in a single place. Using Cornell, you can hone in on major concepts and ideas in lectures and build learning from there. This system is perfect for high school or college students in lecture situations. It is also a good system to bring into your first internship or job.
- Record: During a lecture, use the note-taking column on the left to record the lecture using sentences.
- Questions: Formulate questions in the right-hand column based on your class notes shortly after class ends (while they’re fresh in your mind). Writing questions helps to clarify meanings, reveal relationships, establish continuity, and strengthen memory. Jotting down questions also sets the stage for studying later.
- Recite: Cover the note-taking column with a sheet of paper. Then, looking at the questions or cue words in the right-hand column only, say aloud, in your own words, the answers to the questions, facts, or ideas indicated by the cue words.
- Reflect: Reflect on the material by asking yourself questions, for example, “What’s the significance of these facts? What principle are they based on? How can I apply them? How do they fit in with what I already know? What’s beyond them?
- Review: Spend at least ten minutes every week reviewing all your previous notes. If you do, you’re more likely to retain the information and crush your next exam.
Power tip: Add highlights, underlines, or symbols around information that is important to your studies. If you can, avoid writing out entire sentences. The point of note-taking is to clue yourself into things your professor indicates may be important, and to help create personal study guides. If you’re taking notes in Evernote, create a key at the top of your note so that you remember what each special formatting element represents.
The Sentence Method
The Sentence Method of note-taking is one of the most basic note-taking systems. It is exactly what it sounds like—taking notes in complete sentences. This method is an excellent way to capture the information your professor is saying word-for-word. But, you lose the ability to organize your notes through numbered or bulleted lists.
Since what you have written is not organized into paragraphs, you will have to return and review the material later.
According to the University Librarian, the Sentence Method of note-taking can be broken down into three easy steps.
- Write down each sentence on a separate line.
- Number your lines.
- Review your notes.
If you type quickly and if the information is presented in an organized manner, this may be the perfect note-taking system for you.
Power tip: Although this method is meant to be complete sentences, it may help you to create your shorthand to help you type faster. If you use abbreviated language to chat with friends on social media, implement it into your note-taking. For example, use w/ (with) and % (for percentages). If you want to create a more complex shorthand system, create a key at the beginning of your notes that you can refer back to.
A simple note-taking method
This note-taking system doesn’t really have a name, but it will have a big impact on your education. You’re learning a lot in class, so it’s important to record helpful resources, key lecture points, follow-up questions, and action items for yourself.
With this Class Notes template, you can keep the sections as is, or you can customize them to fit your needs. Either way, you will be set up for success!
Bonus note-taking tips for students
From annotations to highlights, here are some additional ways to take your notes to the next level.
Attend lectures regularly. It goes without saying that consistent class attendance is a huge part of success in school. You have to absorb lecture material in class to understand textbook reading and to prepare for exams and final projects. Plus, when you really think about it, every time you skip a class, you’re losing money. You’re paying for these classes, remember!
Get creative with your note-taking. You should choose whatever note-taking system works best for you, but feel empowered to get creative with it. Add in symbols, highlights, emojis, and color-code your notes. Whatever helps you remember what you’re writing down is the best way to take notes.
Become an active reader. When you’re studying for class or developing ideas for writing projects, push hard to read actively and understand the material.
Ask questions. Ask your professor or study partners additional questions as you’re taking notes to expand on specific topics. By asking these questions, you can further your understanding of the material and add to your notes.
Cite sources. Many classes require annotated bibliographies, so you’ll save time if you capture your sources as you study. Use Evernote’s Web Clipper to keep track of your sources as you’re taking notes so that you never have to waste time searching for sources when it comes time to create your bibliography.
Combine handwritten notes with digital notes. Use Evernote’s document scanning feature to capture your handwritten notes and store them in the appropriate notebook. That way, you don’t have to worry about misplacing your great ideas!
Note-taking is critical to school success, but it doesn’t have to be scary. There are many note-taking systems that you can choose from to help you learn more efficiently and effectively. So whether you’re a classic note taker, a visual note taker, or somewhere in-between, Evernote is here to help you become a better note taker.
Originally published September 11, 2017. Updated on August 12, 2022.