Notes can be organized in different ways depending on your personal preference, the subject matter, and how information is presented in class.
1. Cornell method
Divide a page into two parts. In one column, record key words and concepts that can help you with the recall of the main information. Record notes in another column. Write the summary at the bottom of the page. (See example below).
- Presents a visual organization of notes that are easy to follow
- Identification of key words and concepts
- Notes can be used for reviews before exams.
- You can scan the notes and save them.
|[page number & topic covered]|
|Key Words||Record your notes here during the lecture.|
|Summarize your notes here in your own words.|
- Format. Divide a piece of notebook paper by drawing a line from top to bottom. Make the line 2 inches from the left side of the page.
- Title. On the top of each page, write a page number and the topic covered.
- Taking notes.
- On the right side of the paper, record the notes during the lecture.
- Skip lines between main ideas and several lines between topics.
- Use symbols, abbreviations and short phrases instead of complete sentences.
- Reviewing and clarifying
- As soon as possible, review your notes in the right column and clarify information that were ambiguous.
- Compare your notes with textbook’s or other students’ notes.
- Then pull the main ideas, key words and concepts, and write them in the left column.
- Summarize the main topics of this page of notes at the bottom of the page.
- Use your own words in order to practice explaining the topic.
2. Two-column method
This method is less structured than the Cornell method. Use this method to keep track of key terms and definitions, or processes.
- Divide the paper vertically in two columns by drawing a line from top to bottom.
- On the top of the page, write a page number and the topic that will be covered.
- In the left-hand column, record very brief information, keywords, ideas, and concepts.
- In the right-hand column, write an explanation for each keyword and concept.
- After class, review your notes in the right column and clarify any ambiguous information.
- Compare your notes with the textbook or other students’ notes.
- When you study, you can add extra columns if you want to add any other relevant information.
This method uses a pattern of indented spaces to organize information.
- Place major points farthest to the left.
- Indent each specific point to the right.
- Level of relationship will be identified by the distance away from the major point.
- Indent each specific point to the right.
4. Mapping Method
This method is a graphical presentation of information. It can be used after lectures in the form of concept mapping or “mind mapping”. Check out the step-by-step guide titled How to Construct a Concept Map.
This method visually helps with understanding the big picture and relationships between concepts.
It is difficult to create a concept map during a lecture.
5. Shrinking notes (also called “chunking”)
This method is helpful for making detailed notes more manageable and easier to review.
- For each paragraph of your notes, summarize notes in one or two words, or a short phrase.
- Then, think how you can organize your notes in chunks around major thoughts or concepts.
- Write these major topics in the left column (similar to the Cornell method)
6. Charting Method
Used to categorize information. Can be helpful for pharmacology, comparing symptoms of diseases, etc. (see examples below).
Organizing the material in categories after class will help you to see the relationships between information. It will be easier to compare and contrast, see differences and similarities.
Difficult to use during the class because you need time to create the chart
|Drug Name||Trade Names||Indications & Usage||Contraindications||Mechanism of Action||Side Effects|
|Naproxen Sodium||Aleve Naprosyn||…||…||…||…|
|Chronic Thyroiditis||Hashimoto’s disease||Endocrine||…||…||…|
7. Sentence Method
Write every new topic, fact or idea on a separate line and number them.
The notes are slightly more organized than a paragraph in the text.
You cannot easily identify the main points, keywords and concepts and relationships. You will still need to organize these notes. (Consider color coding and highlighting, described below.)
8. Color coding
To help you with triggering your memory when reviewing your notes, you can use different colors for the relative importance of information and comparison.
Use a different color of highlighter to distinguish different types of information and organize them by topic or by relationship to each other. Develop your own color coding depending on the type of material and organization of the notes.
Using abbreviations can increase speed of note-taking during lectures. Use common abbreviations and/or create abbreviations that remind you of the full word.
Examples B4 = before w/ = with
≥ = greater than or equal to
∆ = change
ml = milliliter
→ = leads to/causes
Use symbols and/or underlining to emphasize areas that you want to revisit or that the instructor emphasizes.
Easy to use during the lecture.
Only helpful if you remember what the symbol/underline means.
- Write your notes as you normally would.
- When the instructor emphasizes a topic (repeats it several times in the lecture or says “this will be important later”, etc.), underline it or put a symbol next to it
- Use a symbol or underline the same way each time, so that you will know what it means.
Many phones and tablets include note-taking options to combine traditional note-taking and technology. Read more about technology based tools under Note-taking on the On Demand Learning Support page.
Useful if you have a mobile device with you often. Some applications are free.
Some of these applications only work with a mobile device, and some have a cost associated with them.
- Google Drive
- Liquid Text
Information adapted from the Penn State University Center for AcademicAchievement“NoteTaking Strategies” study guide.