Sunday, March 26, 2023

9 Best Note-Taking Methods for College Students

Have you ever heard of the saying, “If you aren’t taking notes, you aren’t learning”?

Some people may think that note-taking is a boring and time-wasting activity. But taking notes during college will help you remember details that would otherwise be lost. 

However, if you think note-taking simply involves jotting down what you hear during a lecture, that’s where you’re wrong! There are multiple methods that you can follow to get the most out of note-taking, learn the material, and ace your exams. 💪 💯

Here are nine of the best note-taking methods for college students.

1. The Cornell Method

Do you have a short-term memory when it comes to mind-boggling concepts and ideas? The Cornell Method might just save you!

This systematic format involves creating two columns in a notebook. The left side (30 percent of the page) is for the “cue” section, while the right side (70 percent) should be allotted for the “notes” section. 

Write all the keywords you’ll hear during a lecture in the left column, while the right side is reserved for a more thorough explanation or information regarding those keywords.

Include a brief summary of the topic at the bottom of each page. This way, you can speed up your reviewing and studying — which is always a big advantage with a college course load, right?


  • Sums up all information in a systematic way
  • Allows you to easily extract main ideas and concepts
  • Cuts down time in organizing and reviewing your notes


  • Creating the page layout can be time-consuming
  • May require you some time to summarize ideas

2. The Outline Method

Probably the easiest and most common note-taking technique for college students, the Outline Method involves picking four or five key points covered in a lecture. 

For each key point, you write a more in-depth explanation (using bullet points, of course!) based on what’s being discussed by your professors. By using this strategy, all topics and their subtopics will be presented in a structured and easy-to-read way.

Curious about why this is probably the most commonly-used method? That’s because this technique has a structure that allows students to see connections between ideas. You can also easily convert the points into questions to quiz yourself later on!


  • Neat and organized presentation of information
  • Highlights important points of a lecture in a logical way
  • May reduce your reviewing time


  • Cannot be used if the lecture is too fast or doesn’t follow a specific structure
  • Not appropriate for lectures involving formulas and charts (such as mathematics and chemistry)

3. The Charting Method

Similar to the Cornell Method, the Charting Method uses columns to organize key points and additional details. You can create a table or spreadsheet consisting of three to five columns, each representing a unique category that can make the rows easily comparable.

For example, if you are a communications student and you’re learning about various camera angles, your first column may include the kinds of shots, the second descriptions, the third column the specific shot’s meaning for a photo or a movie, and the fourth tips and tricks.

But how about heavy content that includes stats? Well, the Charting Method is also a great method for those. This technique allows you to highlight key pieces of information to organize facts for easy review. How convenient!


  • Suitable if you need to memorize a lot of information
  • Helps you keep track of details
  • Allows you to easily compare points


  • Time-consuming
  • Not effective if the content of the lecture involves long explanations
By taking notes during college, you will remember important pieces of information that would otherwise be lost or forgotten. Photo: Gift Habeshaw/Unsplash

4. The Map Method

If you’re a visual learner, this is the note-taking method for you! The Map Method helps you organize your notes by dividing them into branches. 

Begin with writing the main topic at the top or middle of the map (your call!), then divide it into subtopics using arrows. Use the entire page until you reach the smallest information related to your main topic.

Remember to start off with broad, general ideas before adding sub-concepts such as dates and supporting facts. This will enable you to establish relationships between the topics.


  • Relationships between topics or ideas can be viewed easily
  • Allows easy editing of your notes by adding marks, numbers, and color coding
  • Main points can be extracted easily and pieced together using a larger structure at a later date


  • Not as space efficient
  • Can make you confused if one piece of information is misplaced

5. The Boxing Method

Do you prefer it when everything fits into neat little boxes? Using this technique, all information related to one specific subject is grouped together in one box, cutting down the time needed for reading and reviewing.

This method is more convenient for college students who are using an iPad since it has digital note-taking applications like GoodNotes that allow you to subsequently reorder or resize contents. It also lets you zoom in on a specific page to help you focus on one topic at a time.


  • Sorts out information in the form of boxes
  • Can help you familiarize the relation between notes in a visual way
  • Allows you to focus on one box at a time during review


  • Can be ineffective for some lecture types (such as fast-paced or cluttered lectures)
  • May require you additional time to group all information

6. The Sentence Method

If you’re attending a fast-paced lecture and the above methods are slowing you down, the Sentence Method is your knight in shining armor!

The technique requires you to simply jot down everything that’s being discussed to the best of your ability. You should start each sentence (or each point) on a new line. This allows you to cover a lot of information quickly and can help you identify which details are relevant or not after the lecture.


  • Requires little preparation
  • More organized than using paragraphs
  • You can easily scratch off points that are irrelevant or highlight important information


  • Doesn’t show the internal connections between topics and subtopics
  • Might take time to clean up relationship between ideas before you can review the notes

7. The Flow Notes Method

For students who love integrating drawings into their notes for aesthetic or other purposes, the Flow Notes Method might be the most effective note-taking technique to use.

The idea is simple: jot down topics (you can use keywords), then start drawing arrows or make use of doodles, diagrams, and graphs to connect the ideas together. If some details remind you of another piece of information, jot it down to help you establish connections.

Remember that when using this method, there are three important things to follow: simplify, visualize, and make connections.


  • Allows you to concentrate on the note’s content, cutting down the time needed for review
  • Helps you maximize class time and revise old lectures later at home
  • May help you feel like an ordinary student and not a lecture-transcribing machine


  • Time-consuming, as you will need to draw arrows, diagrams, and doodles to connect ideas
  • Misplaced information may give you a tough time reviewing your notes
Best note-taking method
Note-taking is also good for students who have short-term memory or are visual learners. It will help you keep track of details discussed during lectures. Photo: Judit Peter/Pexels

8. The Structured Analysis Method

In subjects where analysis and thorough explanation are important, you might find the Structured Analysis Method is the ideal note-taking method for you.

But how do you make use of it? Like the Cornell Method, you’ll create a table with two columns — but the left side (70 percent) should be allotted for your actual notes, while the right side (30 percent) is for remarks.

During your lecture you can add the information you hear to the left column, but write your own thoughts and analysis in the smaller column to deepen your knowledge of the topic. 

You can include strengths and weaknesses, references, comparisons, or anything that will help you understand the topic more. 

Tip: Try using different colors to distinguish various types of information, for example green for strong points and red for weak points.


  • Helps you save time since you can both take notes while also analyzing them
  • Best for topics with emphasized strengths and weaknesses
  • Can be combined with other methods (for example, you can use the Outline Method in the left column)


  • You might find it difficult to choose which information should be included in the right column
  • Page consuming

9. The Writing on Slides Method

If your professor is the kind to make their slides available, take advantage of it! Print off the slides or save them as a PDF and save yourself the hassle of madly copying down the slide information. Instead, you can focus on what your professor is saying!

This is where the Writing on Slides Method is most effective. The slides provided by your professors will give you a leg up for the outlining process. All you need to do is expand on key concepts presented in the printout (yeah, it’s that easy!)


  • Can save you time since the key concepts have already been written and provided
  • Allows you to easily review topics and subtopics
  • Suitable for students who are not much into note-taking


  • Works only if the professors are using slides and willing to let you print them off
  • There may not be enough space to write supporting details, especially if they are quite a lot

Now that you already know the best note-taking methods in college, do yourself a favor by trying out each of them and see which techniques suit you best. 

So what are you waiting for? Scribe, scribe, scribe! 📝

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