What Are Notetaking Systems?

Many students take notes writing down whatever they consider useful in no particular format. The following notetaking systems will give you ways to record notes and choices of the system most effective for you to use.

Verbatim Notes

When students take verbatim notes, they write down everything that the instructor says (or as much of it as they can) as they hear it and in no particular format. Such notes are often hard to decipher and are usually incomplete because an instructor may be speaking more rapidly than students can write. As a result, verbatim notes require attention and reorganization to be useful for study. Verbatim notes are more helpful than no notes at all, but there are more efficient approaches.

Informal Outline Notes

Most students are familiar with outlining by the time they reach college. This notetaking method builds on outlining, but with more flexibility and less detail. Instead of including all of the numerals, and letters, informal outlines mean placing notes on the page to indicate links between main points, supporting ideas, and specific examples.

Place main points at the left margin of the page and indent supporting points below them. You can indent related supporting points to form an outline format on the page. Later on you can number or highlight points to identify relationships, but the key is to align information so that you establish organization of ideas as you write them down.

Outline notes require active listening and thoughtful decision to determine and record important points, yet it allows you to record as much supporting detail as you need. Such notes are easiest when a class presentation is well organized and especially helpful when the instructor provides a preview such as a brief outline, a handout, or PowerPoint slides. In discussion classes, question and answer sessions, or lectures that are not clearly organized, outline notetaking may be more difficult to use.

The Cornell Method

Step 1

Before the notetaking session, draw a line down the left side of the page approximately 2 1/2″ from  the edge of the paper and stopping about 2″ from the bottom of the page. Draw another line across the page at that point, dividing the blank sheet of paper in to three parts. Use the larger, right hand section of the page to take your notes in whatever way works best for that class.

The Cornell Method does not involve anything more complex at this point than constructing the lines, so it can be easily adapted without complication if you are new to the format. You can use verbatim notes or informal outline notes for the note taking itself.

Step 2

Shortly after class, fill in the Cue Column and the Summary Statement areas. The Cue Column at the left is for key questions or comments about the main points from the notes you have taken. By responding to your notes in the Cue Column, you’ll be be generating potential test questions, identifying definitions or key terms, and creating key points for later study. Then summarize the main points in one or two sentences in the Summary section. In this way, you’ll be both answering potential exam questions and reviewing and organizing ideas for yourself. The fifteen to twenty minutes you spend reviewing, commenting on, and summarizing your notes right after class will help you learn and remember ideas later on.

Step 3

The next step in Cornell Notetaking reinforces what you learned from the late notetaking during session and shows what you still need to study to create lasting knowledge and understanding. Cover your notes from the day before without reviewing them first. Then use the questions or terms in the Cue Column to test your recall by writing down what you remember. After you have the self-test, review your notes and compare your answers to your original notes. This self-test, truly helps your memory and understanding of the notes you have taken. If you look over your notes first, all you will be learning is that you can read and remember for a few seconds. You won’t know what you know until you test yourself without reviewing your notes first.

Step 4

At the end of the week, do another self-test and review. By giving yourself a few days to partially forget some noted materials and then testing again activates your longer term memory. You’ll understand what you remember and what you have lost. Remember that you should test first, then review so that you know what you need to study more and what you already storing well in your memory. Some further quick self testing sessions in the weeks before an exam builds a strong foundation of knowledge before you begin those last, intensive study sessions shortly before the exam. That is when the extra effort of self-testing and reviewing begins to really pay off.


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