How to Take Notes: 5 Effective Study Techniques

5 minutes read -
Shannon Terrell
Written by
How to take notes
Table of Contents
Highlights: Understanding how to take notes can change the way you learn. These five techniques can be used by anyone, anywhere, and will powerfully improve your learning experience.

Taking good study notes is easier said than done. To maximize your learning potential, you have to invest some time in learning how to learn.

And that means learning how to take notes! But not just any notes—it means learning how to take good study notes.

What separates good study notes from the rest? You’re about to find out.

What’s the Best Way to Take Notes?

Learning how to take notes is a process. It involves utilizing the best techniques not just for general note-taking, but for your personal preferences.

And here’s the beauty of it: there’s no single best way to take notes.

Learning how to take notes is really all about understanding what works best for you. You can become a super learner in no time!

What Are the 3 Types of Note-Taking?

The three most common ways of note-taking are Outline, Web, and Cornell method. Let’s review them.

1. Outline

This is the most common type of note-taking. The main points and topics in the lecture represent titles and headings in the notes, while the main key points are listed above each heading.

It is very common and helpful for listings and bullets where the information you are writing down is organized into groups and categories.

2. Web

Web, concept mapping, or brain mapping is another method that is quite popular. Even though it may seem unorganized at first, drawing maps is very good for connecting ideas and making a web of logical knowledge.

While the outline is a linear way of taking notes, web or mapping is graphic.

3. Cornell method

This is one of the most popular and systematic methods of note-taking where you divide the paper into three parts of which each has its own function.

What is the Cornell Method of note-taking?

The Cornell Method of note-taking is a method that gives a systematic format for organizing notes. Even though there are several methods of note-taking, the “two columns” is the most common one.

The paper is divided into three parts:

  1. Cue column – this is where you would write down questions, keywords, and main ideas;
  2. Note-taking area – Quite logically, this is where you write down your notes;
  3. Summaries – 5cm part at the bottom of the page where you gather and summarize the ideas.
Taking down notes

What Are the Five R’s of Note-Taking?

Effective note-taking can drastically change the way you learn. Take advantage of these 5 tips for effective note-taking to get the most out of your study sessions:

1. Record

What’s the best way to take notes? By hand, or on the computer?

Some studies have indicated that taking notes by hand may give you the edge come exam time, but it’s really a matter of preference. If you prefer to write your notes by hand, do it. If you prefer to take notes on a laptop, do it!

Pro tip: if you plan to take notes with your laptop, use Google Docs. You can access your notes anywhere and there’s no risk of losing your notes if your computer crashes!

2. Reduce

After the class and after the recording, listen to what you have recorded or look at the notes you have made, and write down the important parts.

Erase those that you will not need or that are not connected to the lecture.

If they are useful or interesting, though, write them down somewhere else.

3. Recite

Be as conversational as you can when taking notes. Let the speaker, lecturer, or professor worry about the technical jargon.

Take note of important terms and concepts as needed, but don’t clutter your notebook with the terminology you won’t be able to make sense of later. What’s most important is that you write in a way that will make sense to you later when you review your notes!

4. Reflect

If you’re scrambling to try and jot down each and every word that comes out of your professor’s mouth, you’re likely going to fall behind.

Keep pace with the flow of the lecture by condensing concepts and sentences to a few key phrases or words. Link concepts by drawing arrows or color-coding your notes.

5. Review

This is probably the most important tip here, so we wanted to save it for last.

Review your notes! No, not just the day before the exam. Try to review your notes within 24 hours. You’ve likely jotted down some ideas or concepts in short form that you might not be able to make sense of later.

Review what you’ve written down and fleshed out any concepts that need expanding. You will definitely thank yourself come test time!

How Do You Read and Take Notes?

Reading and taking notes may seem very tricky, and you might wonder how you take notes while you read and still stay focused and not lose track of the reading.

Well, there are a few tricks that can help.

1. Initial note-taking

This is a form of systematic skimming where you might find the information you need as soon as you flip a few pages.

This way, when and if you start reading a book, you will already know the main idea and a few most notable points.

While reading the book, take notes on the margins, underline, circle, and star important points. Develop your own system of mapping.

What’s even more important is to take notes after every chapter. Write down unanswered questions, main points and ideas, and similar important points. When you are done, let the book sit for a few days or a week.

2. Re-reading the notes

When you take the book again, go through your notes and all of the comments you made. This is important because now you are familiar with the whole book. You know the ending you didn’t know once you’ve finished reading Chapter 1. Also, you’ve let the book sit for a bit and your head is clear now.

Most of the things will probably seem unimportant, but there will be things that will stick. Those things are what should stay.

3. Re-writing the notes

After you’ve reviewed your notes and made a mental picture of the whole book, you are ready to store the good notes somewhere. And this is the final part where you rewrite the best notes and can easily access the good stuff whenever you need it.

Shannon Terrell

Shannon Terrell

Tagged as


Fact-Checking: Our Process

Mindvalley is committed to providing reliable and trustworthy content. 

We rely heavily on evidence-based sources, including peer-reviewed studies and insights from recognized experts in various personal growth fields. Our goal is to keep the information we share both current and factual. 

The Mindvalley fact-checking guidelines are based on:

To learn more about our dedication to reliable reporting, you can read our detailed editorial standards.