Taking Notes

According to study done with Princeton University in 2014 students who took notes on a 15 minute lecture using a laptop wrote an average of 310 words while those who wrote by hand only averaged 173 words. The flipside to writing faster is that these students were able to recall less information when tested on the same later on.[1]
This is due to the fact that while typing, your brain chooses to focus more on transcribing the words as is rather than the meaning.  Current Cognitive Science studies show that the brain is able to store and process  around 4 ‘chunks’ of information at a single time. So, while writing by hand, you can filter out the syntax and focus more on the meaning.

In order to help you take the best possible notes, the following methods of note-taking have been compared and compiled. It is best to keep in mind that what works for one subject may not work for another. The diagram below shows a generalized idea of note taking but what follows will be more detailed and better suited for note taking.

There are four main methods of note taking:

The Outline Method-
This is one of the more common methods of taking notes. You can typically use this for taking notes on a computer. Essentially you with jot down a ‘Main Idea’ (the conceptual understanding of the idea). Follow this with the breakdown of the idea into ‘Sub Topics’ with the definition of the sub topic and provide examples.

Pros and Cons:

  • In this method, the written content is structured and the relationship between the different subjects are also clearly visible.
  • Another benefit is that the focus can remain on the lecture and all the main content is written down and does not require significant revision.
  • In the event that additional content needs to be written, as long as you give space for additional notes and diagrams this method will remain valuable.
  • However please keep in mind the outline method is not suited for conceptual and problem based subjects like mathematics and physics.

The Cornell Method-

The Cornell method originated at Cornell University; this was a system used by its students to take clearer notes. In this method you take a page and divide that page into three segments- one segment for ‘Note Taking’, another segment for ‘Cue- Taking’ and a final segment for a ‘Summary’.

Note Taking: The notes segment is in use while you take notes in the lecture. It contains all the important points from your lecture. You can use your personal shorthand, any abbreviations that you use also ends up in this segment. This segment can be enriched by using concise sentences and lists to help you remember better.

Cue-Taking: This segment of the page can be used for jotting down doubts, diagrams, questions that arise during class and things related to the topic that you want to look up later. In this instance, you can look up videos related to the topic or tests that are available online.

Summary: This is perhaps the most important aspect of the Cornell method. This is because after the lecture you can reread your notes and summarise them as crisply as you can for quick reference. Your summary can be a time saving tool the closer you get to the exam. Remember to keep it short. A good rule of thumb is 1/6th rule where you summarise a concept using only 1/6th of the words used for your notes.

Pros and Cons:

  • The Cornell system allows for flexibility with note taking. You have margins where information that is tangential can be recorded.
  • It encourages learning more proactively and takes into consideration the different aspects of learning.
  • It is good for thinking, reflecting and questioning the material more deeply.
  • It is time consuming to prepare the Cornell layout on every page.

The Mind Map Method-

A mind map is a graphical way to represent ideas and concepts. It is a visual thinking tool that helps structuring information, helping you to better analyze, comprehend, synthesize, recall and generate new ideas.[2]

The mind map is a popular method to structure your notes. It can be used for a variety of subjects. This method is established as a high impact method of learning because the visual style of note taking is more likely to be remembered than many other styles.[3]

You can write down the main topic on the centre of the page and draw connections from there. An essential division is ‘Subject>Topic> Notes, Ideas and Key Words’. These will help you sort out the content that you want to present in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

Pros and Cons:

  • Easy to understand and review as a pictoral representation helps consolidate learning.
  • Customizable and can be tailored o suit almost all subjects.
  • Engages with the learner.
  • It takes time to draw a mind map.

The Flow Method

This was presented by the founder Scott Young.  Scott Young who is also the propounder of Holistic Learning. Holistic  Learning is an attempt to establish deep neural network connections to connect the pieces of information that you learn.

If you keep every piece of information as a single point to make a web of connections relating to that point.

More connections equals better retaining of information.

The point of flow method is to learn while you’re in class.  It helps you create  a personalized mental image of what was said during the lecture. As you deepen your understanding you can more points, diagrams, mnemonics etc.  To enrich your learning.

Pros and Cons:

  • Learning within the classroom environment ensures that you leave with a full understanding of what was taught.
  • Forming a rich web of connections between every individual piece of information can ensure you don’t forget anything important.
  • It is very time consuming to create a long lasting web of connections.

Finally, at the end of the lecture, take a few minutes to review  Key Words.  You can create a Glossary of terms and write down the definition, and make diagrams and mnemonics.

This will help you remember all the important  points  from your lecture  and stay ahead if The Forgetting  Curve.



Best Wishes

Officers IAS Academy – Best IAS Academy in Chennai.

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