Three quick but effective note taking tips

Whether you write your notes in full paragraphs, i.e., blocks of writing, on each page, or you’re a bit more sophisticated and use bullet points, there’s probably something you can do to save time and prevent yourself from simply ‘scribing’ what the lecturer is saying (generally a bad idea). Here are a few quick ideas:

1) I use Tim Ferris’s method of using a notebook, and writing an index in the front page. This is so much easier than using A4 sheets and punching them into folders afterwards, you never lose notes, and it’s massively easier to find the notes you need. Wish I’d heard of this years ago.

2) I have used Cal Newport’s recommendation for subjects like psychology. He says to write the broad question that the lecturer is driving at on one side or in the margin, then the answer and evidence below it. This is really useful in some cases, but cumbersome in others. Sometimes the speaker jumps between ‘questions’, and it’s too slow to write out a question for each one. Although some lectures are practically designed for this method. This method makes notes infinitely more useful both afterwards and during lectures; you never think “Why the hell did I write that down?”, and by working out and writing down the underlying question behind what the lecturer is saying, it forces you to engage your brain right there. Which is something you should do anyway; if you just passively listen to the lecture and wait to leave, you’re simply burdening yourself further down the line with things you could have already done. Save time and do it in the lecture.

3) Use keywords, not full sentences. When taking notes in the standard, linear way, don’t write out full sentences. It will only slow you down and make your notes less appealing to read later. Use bullet point lists wherever possible, and indent and space them nicely.

Some people use a laptop too, which might also be useful; I can type much faster than I can write. But I’m also a big believer in not carrying things whenever I can help it, and notebooks weigh less than laptops (for now…).


  • Bill and Ben says:

    i often struggle with notetaking so this is a great post, with some good resources. will be sure to check them out. thanks for the article post.

  • Dennis says:

    Never heard about the index, but it might be a great idea.

    It’s also useful and so much easier to read later if you use bullet points and arrows and make the whole thing more visually attractive than a plain text.

    It’s also a good idea to try analizing and organizing the text in your head before writing it down. It’s not as hard as it seems and after a while you’ll be doing it automatically.
    .-= Dennis´s last blog ..IronKey =-.

  • Tess Martin says:

    I tend to use the second method of writing the question the lecturer is trying to answer. Actively taking notes helps me not be so sleepy, too!

  • Thank you for sharing this. I think tip # 1 is a good idea, but tip #3, I am not sure if it will work well with me. I am not good in remembering why I used words for “keywords” and ended up thinking and thinking about what I wrote.

  • It’s interesting to see the methods very specifically laid out – I seem to have figured out a system similar to number 2 during my time at university, albeit I tend to focus on spider diagrams (rather than just parargraph notes under the headings) – I find visual representation of what I’m trying to communicate much, MUCH easier to digest later on. And in the first semester of university during my (one and only) open book exam, that method served me well too – it was really fast to navigate between the sheef of papers I’d collected together. I did feel a bit sorry for the folks trying to dig through pages of written A4 notes during that class, but hopefully that exam was a learning experience and they didn’t repeat the same mistake twice!
    .-= Elizabeth R. Holden´s last blog ..Elizabeth’s Book Reviews- Toxic Parents by Susan Forward =-.

  • Henway says:

    I fully agree that using keywords rather than sentences is the way to go. Another great tool for note taking is EverNotes, highly recommend it =)
    .-= Henway´s last blog ..My Colon Cleanse Story =-.

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