Taking notes and optimally “taking notes” – methods and techniques

It is probably clear to everyone that we learn in life, but often someone does not teach you how to learn and, for example, document knowledge from a textbook in your own words or write a seminar protocol.

Clever and effective note-taking techniques will help you save what you’ve just learned, get tasks and work done quickly, and leave enough free time for a balanced life. So, in this article, we are going to discuss how to take smart notes at work and study to save time and get the best results. We will also discuss whether you should take notes on a notebook or in a paper notepad, and how to take the best notes in both practical and theoretical settings, as well as in number-based subjects such as studying at home, in seminars, courses and meetings.

How do you take notes from textbooks?

A few basic, time-saving tips in advance

First and foremost, you should dispel a common myth: you don’t need to make your notes pretty. You just have to organize them to benefit afterwards.

Most importantly , attend all learning events, meetings, etc.! It takes you twice as long to study to catch up if you don’t. Visiting is the biggest time saver there is. But it is not enough to attend the event, you must also write down its content, key concepts and main points.

Taking notes is an art form. And the following are some proven techniques.

First, let’s talk about an important question:

Paper notes or notebook?

Ask yourself. Do you prefer to take notes directly on your notebook or in a paper notebook? Here we will discuss the pros and cons of both.


Notebook use is becoming more common, and most people can now type faster than they can write (many have even “forgotten” how to write on paper.

The most important advantage is that you can store all information in one place and make it searchable and findable.


Notebooks have their own challenges in math, science, business, or more closely related subjects. There are many numbers and equations that are challenging to jot down on a notebook.

Overall, the challenge of using notebooks is that when you’re taking notes and taking notes, you end up just writing down everything the teacher says verbatim. There is always a temptation to get distracted.

In addition, formatting is usually time-consuming.

You can use a small notebook, but also larger notebooks, so that you can take notes conveniently. Use different pen colors, it makes your notes attractive and easy to read .

If you want to keep your notes for a long time, you should type summaries of your handwritten notes at the end of each week. When researching a topic, first read it online and then get the picture in your head. Then you write in the notebook and later transfer it to a laptop. In this way, ideas are finely distilled and clear.

The outline method

The outline method is great for learners who prefer structure and simplicity, and prefer to divide information into sections. Some advantages are:

  • The concepts are clearly structured. There is a clear prioritization in a learning event.
  • You can see the relationships between the topics and subtopics.
  • And you can easily use the content to create study questions before exams.

The outlining method is based on a hierarchy and uses headings and bullet points to organize content. It is particularly useful when the lecture is accompanied by visual aids such as PowerPoint, where the material is presented on slides.

This gives you the opportunity to structure overarching questions and use sections in your notes. It also works well when the content has a clear and predictable structure, like that in the textbook.

When using the outline method, start with parent headings for each of the lecture’s main points and subtopics and underlying factors.

The Cornell Method

The Cornell Method was developed by Professor Walter Paw of Cornell University in the 1950s and is based on scientific theories of education. It is suitable for most types of lectures, classes and events and requires minimal page preparation.

Taking Notes Using This Method: First, divide the page into three sections: Keywords, Notes, and Summary. The left column is for any words, prompts, comments, questions, or hints that can be used to summarize the notes in bullet points or keywords.

You can do the bullet points either during class or right after reviewing your notes.

Write a brief summary at the bottom of each page to capture the main points of your notes. Summarizing information helps you digest and retain what you learn.

mind mapping method

If you’re a visual learner and the thought of taking notes gives you a headache, then perhaps mind mapping is your best bet: it helps you see the relationships and connections between topics.

The radial design makes it better and easier to find important information. And if you end up with a series of notes, that can be more visually stimulating than the usual lines.

The theory behind a mind map is that it is similar to how the brain works, ie not always linear. Instead of starting at the top of the page, a mind map starts in the middle with the main theme or concert. And the ideas branch out from there.

Let’s assume you are studying the methods of note-taking. The central balloon might say “Methods of Noting” and from there you can branch to any that are presented to you. When the lesson is over, you can add more details about each branch.

Mind maps are great for a class or group discussion, which is often a tortuous and unpredictable path in which questions and tasks are posted and revisited at regular intervals.

You won’t get a lot of details, but you’ll get an overall picture of everything that’s been covered. They’re also great for concepts that aren’t linear numbers.

The charting method

It is ideal for people who want to work quickly and efficiently, write less and keep things tidy. Basically like a spreadsheet, this type of note-taking is good for detailed information that can be broken down into categories such as pros and cons or similarities and differences.

For example, let’s say you want to create a chart analyzing the pros and cons of the charting method. A chart keeps your notes clear and concise and can be very useful when making comparisons, e.g. For example, in a subject like history, where you want to organize detailed information by date or region.

However, you cannot create this format spontaneously. If you want to use them, you probably need to know in advance what will be covered in a lecture. Also, it is limited to questions where the information can be neatly boxed.

The sentence-note method

If you’re brand new to the world of “note-taking” and don’t feel quite comfortable yet, the sentence method may be the best option for you. All it takes is the writing skills learned in elementary school.

It’s considered the easiest method out there and it’s perfect for beginners. The idea is to just write down everything your lecturer says, with each thought or point on its own line. You can use abbreviations as long as you are sure you can remember what you meant by your abbreviations.

You can also use bullets or numbers to separate each item.

With the sentence method, it is important that you take the time after the lecture to review and organize what you have written, because after the lecture you will have pages and pages of information. So you need to go back and pick out the key points so you know what to focus on as you learn the material.

It’s great for taking notes during a lecture when the teacher is conveying a lot of information very quickly. This technique requires no preparation, no prior knowledge of the topic, and maximizes active participation.

Also, you have so much information to transcribe, and since you have to go back to prioritize anyway, this may be the only system for jotting down. So this system should be a bit easier to use.

More study tips: How to take handwritten notes for theoretical subjects?

When we talk about theory subjects, teachers tend to go on and on and it takes dozens of hours to listen, read, and figure out the main ideas or key points.

Let’s dive into the details of how you can do all of this while attending class.

Technique #1:

The devil is in the details. Record the date and title of the daily notes. When saving notes to your laptop, create a separate directory for each class. Save your documents in this folder with date and file name.

If you’re using a notebook, try using a second colored pen, highlighter, or other writing implement to take notes that highlight the important details of the lecture. Develop your own shorthand, e.g. eg you can write “zw” for between, “bes” for especially.

Format specific parts as bold or highlighted as the teacher emphasizes them or as you might want to underline them. You can also draw boxes around important formulas or arrows to show cause and effect (flow notes).

Always remember that your notes and transcripts are only for you. They can be secret, they can be encrypted, they can be a bit messy, it doesn’t matter as long as you understand them.

Your notes don’t have to be pretty, they just have to be organized.


The so-called Q/E/C method is another learning method that Cal Newport talks about a lot in his book Straight-A. Q/E/C stands for Question/Evidence/Conclusion and the main purpose of this system is to structure your entire lecture in terms of questions, evidence and conclusions, which you then assemble into one large study guide be able.

When reading your textbooks, keep in mind that the questions can come from any part of the chapter and usually most chapters in the textbooks are organized into topics and subtopics. Ask yourself questions at the end of each chapter.

Step #1: What’s the Big Question (Q)?

The first step is to identify the question and label it well, marking it with a two-tone pen, bold text, or drawing a box around it.

Step#2: What are the justifications (E)?

After the question comes the points or reasons. Write down all the reasons in bullet points.

Step#3: What is the conclusion (C)?

And then you look for the conclusion. How does the lecturer close the argument?

Do this for each question the teacher discusses. Remember: writing is not the result of thinking. It is the process in which thinking takes place. So don’t write down verbatim every word the teacher says. Write in bullet points.

Take advantage of the teacher’s absence to take notes: take advantage of the teacher not coming to class or telling a personal anecdote, for example. Use this time to clean up and structure your notes, record conclusions, and clarify questions.

If you have too many ideas, you can create a mind map (see above). Because when you sit down at your desk a few days later to revise the material, you will surely forget a few things.

Set aside five to ten minutes after class is over. This is key when reading your notes. Immediately after the lesson, you will record them and make corrections and additions. These small moments have a big impact.

index cards

Prepare reminders as you study. Prepare a stack of flashcards for each subject and revise them whenever you come across a concept, formula, chemical equation, or anything else you may have forgotten. Quickly craft a flashcard and add it to your deck. This is an active learning process.

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