Note-Taking for University Students
Don't try to write down every word
For most lectures, you will have access to slidesets, signposting to key papers and often a recording of the session to go back to at any time after the live event. In addition to this, not everything your lecturer says is the final word on a topic, or the only time they will say it. In short, you don't need to make a note of everything that is said.
Having said that, there is evidence that having a pencil or pen in your hand and transferring key concepts from what you hear, into something you can paraphrase or summarise and then putting that personal version of this knowledge down on paper can have a role in an effective learning process.
The skill is finding the right balance of listening and engaging with noting down key concepts that you want to be reminded of after the event. Try different methods (e.g. computer, tablet, pen, pencil, lined paper, blank paper etc) and also try out different mapping techniques (e.g. spider diagrams,
A lecture is not a dictation exercise where you have to write down everything the professor says. You need to watch out for key points, arguments and themes in the lectures. It's a good thing that lectures are recorded at LSE, so you can always go back and check if you missed a point.
Don't just write words
Underline, Highlight and Capitalise. Use mind-maps, tables, line diagrams and systems tables (see https://help.open.ac.uk/notetaking-techniques for more).
No-one else is going to see the notes so draw pictures.
Ask questions when confused
Don't just write down things you do not understand. Ask for clarification when you are confused. If you're not satisfied, you can always meet the lecturer for further clarification during breaks, after the lecture or during Office Hours.
Share and compare notes with classmates
Two heads according to the popular adage are better than one. It is good to find time to compare notes with your classmates and use theirs to update yours and vice versa. They might have picked up some important points that you didn’t. Find software that might enable sharing to take place.
Different note-taking methods
There is no single best method for note-taking as context can vary (e.g. individual student difference, setting for note-taking, scale of task etc). There is also no rule that any of these methods must be strictly adhered to or cannot be combined. It would however seem to be important to be aware of a range of methods and to understand that note-taking is a skill that can be developed.
The Sentence Method - You write each topic and the supporting details in sentences using your own words. Each new topic begins on a new line with a number in the margin.
The Cornell Method - Divide your paper up into a template and combine in-class notes and themes with post-lecture summaries.
Outlining Method - Organize your notes with indentations. The level of importance is indicated by the distance from the left margin.
The Highlighting Method - When marking-up existing written text, there are also choices to be made and shorthand marks that can be adopted.
Sketch notes - Literally drawing meaning from your reading
Zettelcasten (‘slip box’) notes - historically an analogue system from pre-computer times but the advent of apps such as Notion, Obsidian and Evernote allow the concept of "index cards" to once again be revisited. Being able to quickly search a database, and/or using tags on file items can be a great way of managing information.
Note tables - 'Tabular note-taking', is a good technique if you need to summarise information that you want to compare, such as a debate with differing viewpoints. Summarising the points in a table helps you to evaluate them, improving your understanding of a topic and helping you prepare for an essay or exam.
Diagramming Methods - templates to connect insights and ideas
Margin Meeting notes - take good notes from meetings
More on different methods of note-taking
Note-taking Techniques - A learning resource by The Open University - https://help.open.ac.uk/notetaking-techniques
College of New Caledonia - https://cnc.bc.ca/current-students/student-support/student-advice/2021/02/11/a-guide-to-note-taking-in-class
Divide your page into three with a margin and a bottom bar. During the lecture, take notes in the right-hand (further notes) column, using your usual techniques.
After the lecture or seminar, pick out keywords based on the notes in the right-hand column. Write these in the left-hand (cue) column. Writing these keywords helps to clarify meanings, reveal relationships and summarise information.
After class, cover the note taking column with a sheet of paper. Then, looking at the keywords in the left-hand column only, use the space at the bottom of the page to summarise the most important information.
Reflect on the material by asking yourself questions. For example: Does my summary match the notes in the right-hand column? Does the information make sense? Are there any gaps in my understanding? Do I need to do any further reading?
Katherine Frith's experience of using the Cornell method -
Examples of Icons/Keys to use in bullet journals and note books
Notion, Obsidian, Building a second brain etc
Organize - PARA (project, organize, area, archive)
Zettelcasten - https://zettelkasten.de/posts/overview/
A FREE Learning Resource on the Cornell Note-taking method, by Cornell Unversity - https://canvas.cornell.edu/courses/1451
Making Notes in Class - A series of resources from Edinburgh University - https://www.ed.ac.uk/institute-academic-development/study-hub/learning-resources/making-notes-in-class
Books on note-taking
Carroll, R. (2018) The Bullet Journal Method: Track Your Past, Order Your Present, Plan Your Future. Fourth Estate.
Ahrens, S. (2022) How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking. [pdf]
Forte, T. (2022) Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential. Atria Books.