Five Note Taking Techniques Every Student Should Know

By Ashford University Staff

woman smiling on laptop

Unless you are gifted with a photographic memory, it's not likely that you'll remember everything you view in course webinars, review during online exams, or learn from reading written course material. Taking good notes to reinforce what you learn in class is often the secret to academic success. To that end, we've gathered five note taking techniques to help you quickly and effectively record the most important details to look back on when studying for your next exam.


1. Choose a Medium that Works for You


It's important that the system you use is compatible with your study habits and supports the absorption of course material. For some people, writing by hand helps information stick, while other people need the speed of a laptop to keep up with rapid delivery. Some people use a voice recorder as well, so they can go back to confirm or clarify information later. Being comfortable and confident while taking notes is critical, since you need to focus on listening to accurately capture the information being delivered. Experiment with different mediums for note-taking until you find a balance between speed, accuracy, and retention.


2. Focus on the Most Important Facts


You can't write down every word you hear. Frankly, you don't need to. Not only does recording too much information make it cumbersome to go back and reference your notes later, it interferes with your ability to understand concepts as a whole and in relation to one another. Rather than writing out full sentences, focus on capturing the main points, keywords, and subject transitions. Rephrase information to aid in comprehension, except when dealing with direct quotes, which should be written verbatim. Don't be ashamed to raise your hand or follow up with the instructor to repeat information. In fact, going back to review your notes immediately after taking them allows you to identify areas that need clarification and can help you remember more.


3. Organize your Notes


Putting notes in a hierarchical, chronological structure using bullets or an outline makes it easier to go back and reference this information later. Tiering information also works well to add subsequent supporting evidence and key details to the main points you learn, and it helps you to visualize concepts and put them into context. Other organizational techniques include color-coding with highlighters, using symbols to designate different kinds of facts, and indexing your notes for future reference. Constellation® is an interactive platform for Ashford's online students that makes annotating course materials and organizing notes even easier.


4. Split the Page


In the classroom setting, students are expected to remember important information from both lectures and textbooks. If you have to learn and study information from multiple sources, try the split-page method. For this method, you draw a line down the middle of the page and use each side to capture information from different sources, like putting lecture notes on the left and textbook notes on the right. Not only does the split-page method allow you to gather and compare information from two different places, it creates an integrated set of notes for quick and easy reference later.


5. Try Mind Mapping


When a concept is particularly abstract or the information is delivered in a more visual manner like in many videos online, traditional linear note-taking often isn't the most effective method to help you understand, explore, and expand the ideas presented. In these cases, it's a good idea to try mind mapping. Mind mapping involves drawing diagrams and other visual representations to capture data and facts and link them together in various ways. Using circles, diagrams, symbols, and lines, mind mapping complements the way we naturally speak and allows you to capture the free association and tangents that our brains naturally make.


Taking notes is an often overlooked, yet vital, part of being a successful student. Use these tips to help you capture key facts in a way that works for you, and you're sure to retain vital information that will help you ace your tests and improve your memory.


Written by Ashford University staff


Questions? Talk with an Advisor

Are you currently a licensed RN?

This program requires you to be a current licensed registered nurse. Please check out other programs to reach your education goals such as the BA in Health and Wellness.

Step 1 of 2

Let us help.

Fill out this form to talk with an advisor.

Are you currently a licensed RN?

This program requires you to be a current licensed registered nurse. Please check out other programs to reach your education goals such as the BA in Health and Wellness.