Writing notes seems so simple that it's trivial right? All you have to do is write down anything important that you need to remember and discard what you do not need. But the process itself is deceptively simple, so much so that some students do not write enough, yet others write too much.

Yet all students must learn how to maximise their note taking so that they take the right amount of notes for effective learning. Here are a few tips.

Pen and Paper vs. Digital note taking

Which one should you use? There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Ultimately however, the choice is up to you and how you manage to learn and digest information from your classes or lectures.

Pen and paper is great for visual organisation, you can draw graphs and write symbols. Subjects which focus on graphs, symbols or drawings are better suited towards pen and paper because the process of writing these symbols digitally is tedious.

However, pen and paper is significantly much slower than writing your notes electronically. This is because you are limited to your handwriting. If you suffer from terrible handwriting that you cannot read or you simply cannot write fast enough for your lecturer/teacher then it might be better to take notes digitally.

Writing notes digitally is useful when you have a lot of content that needs to be taken down because of the fast pace of a class, for example. Writing your notes digitally also helps in readability and accessibility. Furthermore, if there are demonstrations that require  the use of your computer, then writing notes digitally would make more sense.

However writing down notes digitally does have a tendency to create a 'copycat' behaviour in taking notes. Simply put, you are writing down whatever the teacher says or whatever is on the PowerPoint. Also the temptation to go on social media greatly increases; will you be able to deal with it?

Don't write everything down

As said before, writing down everything is not a good idea. You will not learn anything new because you are too busy or occupied with copying everything down that you may miss an important point.

Instead you should write down the points in easily digestible blocks. Dot points are much better than sentences because they distill the essence of what is being said.

Signs and visual importance

Note taking should be organised. That is, the notes should not be a big block of words that you wrote down in a hurry, because you will have to look back on this jumbled mess and wonder what the heck you wrote.

Instead, you should underline, circle, highlight, etc. for anything that needs to be emphasised. Things such as definitions, key points, and things that are emphasised by the lecturer/teacher should be useful later on.

Headings are probably the most common way of organising your notes and there's a reason for that; they allow you to break up your notes into parts of the lesson which later allows for greater readability.

Finally, don’t forget indents and spaces, make sure to add spaces to parts that you may need to look over often, or isolate certain points to make them stand out.

Whatever it is, make your own system of note taking, so that you will be able to understand what it is later.

Rewrite your notes after

You've written all your notes, everything is in order, and it still somehow becomes a scrambled mess. This is pretty much normal for some people, including me. Now this is the end of the note taking process.

You need to rewrite your notes as soon as possible.

We do this for several reasons. First, rewriting your notes will actually help you to solidify what you have learned, take this time to try to find out what you didn’t understand during the lecture (which you should have hopefully written down).

Secondly, if you rewrite your notes nicely, then you have a resource which you can use for your test/SAC/exam. Trust me, if you make your own notes now, everything will make much more sense during exam time, rather than desperately flipping over the massive tome that is your textbook

What now?

Hopefully this is a solid foundation to creating your own note taking system that works with you. Everyone has their own method of taking notes, and yours will be somewhat different. Whatever it is, make sure it works for you. Because after all, you are the biggest factor in your success.

Written by Mark