The art of condensing information down into small — highly relevant chunks of information is a tricky one. How do you know what is important in a lecture before you’ve had the lecture? How do you know what parts of a resource are going to be important when you come to write your essay?
You can’t know these things pre-emptively. But you can have systems in place that make it super easy to track all the notes you make, allowing you to learn the information and make the choice on the fly as to whether it is important enough.
The information in this post is taken from our new book The Ultimate Essay Guide launching worldwide in August 2018. If you sign up at the link above, you’ll reserve your advance free copy before it goes on sale.
A tip before the tips:
If you are taking notes on research or resources you might use for an essay you’re writing, try come up with some sort of vague outline first. This will make it easier to spot relevant information and speed up the note taking process.
Also its worth remembering that if your goal is to remember then you should be hand writing your notes for maximum effectiveness.
Here we go then five systems for taking notes.
1. The Sentence Method
The Sentence Method is perhaps the simplest system. It is probably also going to be closest to how you take notes at the moment — a large list of sentences, phrases or facts condensed categorised underneath topics. The difference being that it places emphasis on condensing points down and writing them in your own words rather than copying verbatim. This increases the chance of you memorising and understanding the content.
● Quick to implement and use
● Reduces the amount of information you need to capture
● Can help with later reviewing
● Ideal when you want a simple method of note taking
● Little better than listing out the original content
● Doesn’t assist in building relationships between content
● Makes it hard to supplement your written topics later
2. Mind Mapping
The Mind Mapping method is perfect for those who need to see relationships between ideas. It also serves those who like to take their time and illustrate their thought processes. You can really break topics down with a mind map, spreading them out into important clusters of information before adding in lines to connect similar or contrasting ideas. It really allows you to express creativity in your note-taking.
● Easily visualise difficult topics
● Actively understand how things tie together
● Improve your memory of the topic by having a physical image to remember rather than blocks of text
● Takes a lot of time to do
● Not suited to taking notes quickly
● Can get distracted by the creation aspect over the learning aspect
3. The Outlining Method
The Outlining Method is a more focused version of the Sentence Method. Instead of just summarising points, you are looking to pull out key information and facts and breaking down main topics into subtopics to better organise your notes. This is a super quick method that works well for certain subjects, resources or lectures.
● Very quick
● Minimal writing needed
● Well organised
● Easy to find key facts and information
● Not very detailed
● Some facts and their relevance may be lost
● Only works well with certain types of information
4. The Charting Method
The Charting Method is again one that focuses on key facts. Very similar to the Outlining and Sentence Methods, it works by splitting your notes into columns, reducing the amount you can store in each. By doing this it makes sure only the most important aspects are recorded. Further, you can easily go back to other subtopics and add more information as you go along, making the notes more concise and well ordered.
● Very well organised
● Easily allows information to be placed in relevant subtopics
● Makes finding facts easy across multiple subtopics
● Only works well with small pieces of information
● May get confusing if you’re not used to splitting main topics into subtopics
● Takes some time getting used to the non-linear note taking
5. The Cornell Method
The Cornell Method was designed by Walter Pauk in the 1940s at Cornell University and we believe is the best method for taking notes across the board. This is because it allows you to take fuller, more detailed notes before condensing them to key facts and producing a summary.
● Covers all the key note taking practises
● Offer opportunity for note reviewing
● Allows large information chunks to be collected
● Forces the note-taker to think about how things link together for the summary/relationship section
● Requires additional work, after taking the original notes, to be most effective
When revising, take all the sheets for one subject and lay them out so that only the key information section is shown. You can then test your understanding of the key concepts and easily identify what you’ve missed, thus reducing the time needed to make notes. Your revision ready notes are ready at the first hurdle.
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