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The 5 Best Note Taking Methods & Styles Proven to Work for Learning

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By Scott Winstead

best note taking methods

It’s no secret that taking notes is necessary for learning and retaining info. With the best note taking methods, you can learn better than ever before.

But with so many different note taking styles and techniques, how can you choose the one that best suits your personality?

This blog post will discuss what the different note taking methods are and how they each work to improve your understanding of whatever topic you’re trying to learn about. We’ll also talk about how using a digital note taking app like Evernote (free 14-day trial) can help you get the most from your notes regardless of the method you use.

Whether you’re taking an online course, going to college, or doing some training for work, these methods will help you get better at organizing notes and taking down info in a logical manner.

We’ll outline note taking systems for work, school, and every area of life.

And when combined with effective test taking strategies, you’ll do better than ever if you’re a student.

Please understand there are some other note taking styles we won’t cover in this post because we believe they have some serious drawbacks that don’t make them as effective as the ones below.


Why is Note Taking Important?

When you take notes, you’re essentially creating a second copy of the information that’s being presented to you.

This is beneficial in a few ways:

First, your brain has to process and remember the information twice — once when you hear it and once when you write it down. This helps the key information and main ideas stick in your memory better.

Second, taking notes forces you to focus on the material that’s being presented. You can’t just sit back and listen if you’re busy taking notes! This means that you’ll have a better understanding of the topic once you’re finished taking notes.

And finally, writing notes allows you to review the information later on. If you have a test or quiz coming up, reviewing your notes can help you absorb and retain the information. If your notes are sparse or just aren’t good, it’ll be hard to find the motivation to study.


What are the Best Note Taking Methods?

There are lots of different note taking strategies and styles, but these are the ones that are proven to get the best results.


1. The Cornell Note Taking Method

The Cornell note taking method is one of the most popular note taking methods available, and it dates all the way back to the 1950s.

It’s simple to use and can be adapted to any type of learning situation.

Here’s how the Cornell method works:

You start by dividing your paper into two columns — the left column taking up about 30% of the page is for questions while the right column that takes up the remaining 70% of the paper’s width is for notes. Additionally, you’ll want to leave a little space — about 5-7 lines — all the way across the bottom of the page for a summary.

As you’re listening to the lecture or reading the material, you take notes in the right column. Whenever you have a question, you write it in the left column. You can also include keywords or little notes in the left column that will help you when reviewing the notes later on.

The great thing about the Cornell method is that it allows you to review your notes later on much more easily than if you’d just scribbled a bunch of random thoughts all over a piece of paper.

Some of the advantages of the Cornell method include:

  • Getting to ask questions about the information while you’re still engaged with it.
  • Making sure that you understand the material. It’s impossible to have a question or thought that went unanswered if it’s written on your paper following the Cornell notes method.
  • Allowing you to use keywords for easy review of the topic later on.


2. The Outline Note Taking Method

The outline note taking approach is arguably the most popular style of note taking used by college students.

Outlines help you to organize information in a logical way. This makes it easier to remember the information later on, whether it’s for a test or real world application.

The outline method of note taking can be useful in most cases.

However, in some classes like math or chemistry, it is better to use a different note taking system because there are a lot of formulas, graphs, and structures that need to be drawn.

Some of the advantages of the outline method include:

  • The construction of an outline helps you identify the big ideas and details in what you’re learning, which makes it easier for you to understand the information.
  • Outlines help lay out information in a logical, easy-to-understand way
  • You can review outlined notes very quickly


3. The Mind Mapping Method

Mind mapping is a visual note taking technique. This type of note taking method can be very useful as a visual aid for understanding how topics are related to one another.

With the mind mapping note taking method, you create a map or diagram with a central idea in the middle and then add branches with all of the related points and details.

Start off with really broad key ideas and then add in more specific supporting facts and subconcepts to the branches that connect all the key points and information together.

This makes it easy to see how all of the information is connected.

The mind mapping note taking method is great because:

  • It’s a visual way to take down information (i.e. great for visual learners)
  • You can add all of the details related to a topic
  • It’s easy to see how everything is connected
  • It’s great for studying for exams

All in all, the mind mapping method is one of the best note taking systems for work environments in particular as it can be very useful for brainstorming big picture ideas.


4. The Sentence Note Taking Method

The sentence note taking method is a great way to take down important information.

The sentence method involves writing down full sentences and underlining the most important words.

You’ll write down the sentences on different lines in order to keep each thought or concept separate from one another.

In other words, you’re basically transcribing anything important that’s being said to the best of your ability.

Some of the advantages of using this note taking method include:

  • It’s a very easy note taking style to understand
  • This note taking style applies to any subject matter
  • Good for quickly jotting down notes during class

Of course, there are some drawbacks to the sentence note taking style.

Most notably, it can be difficult to transcribe everything quickly enough, especially if you’re taking handwritten notes. And it’s easy to go over the top with how much you’re writing.

You need to be really fast at writing or typing.

It’s also not a great note taking style for visual learners as you’re basically left with a ton of words to sort through.


5. The Charting Note Taking Method

The charting method of taking notes uses rows and columns to sort information.

A great example is a table used to sort information by date, time, location, etc.

In the note taking context, it could be used for sorting definitions or concepts by their similarities or differences.

This note taking style can be effective for organizing large amounts of information in a clear and concise manner.

Some advantages of the charting note taking method include:

  • It’s an easy way to organize large sets of data or information quickly and efficiently
  • It simplifies complex ideas without losing any quality
  • It makes studying for tests easier as you’re able to go through all of your notes in organized rows and columns at once
  • Good for visual learners as it makes it easy to see how different pieces of information relates to one another
  • Very efficient and effective note taking method

Of course, this note taking technique isn’t applicable for all subjects, and it does require some advanced knowledge of the subject so you can lay things out in a manner that makes sense.


Common Note Taking Mistakes to Avoid

No matter which note taking method you choose, it’s important that you avoid some common mistakes so you can set yourself up for success.

Here are some of the most common mistakes people make when taking notes:

1. Not being organized

This is probably the biggest mistake people make when taking meeting notes. Organization is absolutely essential for effective note taking.

If what you wrote down is organized, it will make reviewing notes later incredibly difficult and frustrating.

It’s important to take down all of the information that’s being said, but you also need to be organized in order to make sense of it all later on.

With the best note taking apps, like Evernote, it’s super easy and fast to organize your notes in a logical, easy-to-understand manner.

2. Not paying attention

It’s also important to pay attention when taking notes.

If you’re not paying attention, you’re not going to get the most out of the note taking experience.

Make sure you’re listening carefully and taking down the most important information and key points in a clear way that will make sense later.

3. Not having the right supplies

There are tons of different ways to take notes, but if you’re lacking the proper note taking supplies, it can make the whole process frustrating.

If you like to take notes by hand as opposed to using digital notes, make sure your studying spot has plenty of good pens/pencils and paper on hand.

If you type your notes up, make sure your device is charged and ready to go.

The right note taking app (we recommend Evernote) can also make all the difference in the world, helping you get way more from your digital notes.

4. Taking down too much information

This mistake can also be tied to not paying attention.

While it’s good to put down everything important that’s being said during class, there’s no need to write down every single detail word for word if it doesn’t contribute toward the main points of what’s being taught.

There’s definitely overkill when it comes to taking effective notes. Take down only the most important key concepts, and leave out the rest.

Effective note taking requires paying attention to what’s relevant and understanding what’s not.


A Final Word on the Best Note Taking Methods & Styles

When it comes to note taking strategies, there are a variety of approaches to choose from.

In order to find the best note taking method for you, it’s important to consider your individual strengths and weaknesses.

No matter which method you choose, be sure to avoid making common mistakes like being unorganized or not paying attention.

You may want to give different note taking techniques a try before you settle on the ones that best fit your learning style.

Have any questions about the different note taking methods? What are your favorite strategies for taking better notes? Let us know by commenting below.

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