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There are three great advantages to becoming a good Note-taker.

Firstly, taking notes helps you to concentrate. Knowing that you will need to turn what you are reading or listening to into a set of notes means that your focus will be sharper. You’ll listen more attentively and read more carefully.

Secondly, in order to take good notes –a clear set of notes that you will go back to again and again - you will develop greater understanding.

Thirdly, good note-taking will save you time. Once they’re made, revising for a test or exam becomes easier as you can find everything more quickly.

I’ll suggest a few different note-taking techniques that you can try out. They can be used when accessing on-line learning such as lessons from your teacher or when working with text documents.

Learning different note-taking strategies will also help you in the future. If you go on to study at university or you intend to pursue a career where you will be required to read materials and attend meetings, the ability to take notes will be a great advantage.

So let’s get started.

TIP 1: The Cornell Method

This method was created in the 1970's at Cornell University in the United States. It’s a really good strategy that leaves you with a well-organised set of notes.

How to use this method:

1. Set up your page. You’ll need either an exercise book or some lined paper to work on. As you can see from the diagram your page will need to be divided up into four sections: Title, Notes, Keywords/Questions and Summary.

2. At the top of the page write the Title of the notes you are taking and the date.

3. Now go to the bottom of your page. Here, create a Summary section.

4. The rest of the page will need to be split into two sections. The largest section in the middle is your Notes section. Allocate about 70% of the space to this.

5. Finally, on the left-hand side create a section which will be about 30% of the space (or if there is a margin on the paper make it twice the width of the current margin). Here, you will pull out Keywords from the notes you have taken and/or write Questions that the notes are answering.

Using the Cornell Method to take notes

Firstly, write down the Title of what you are taking notes on and the date. Then, jot down some notes within the Notes section. Ensure that you write on every other line as leaving a line gives you the opportunity to add more later.

If you don’t understand what you are writing there and then you can write questions that you can come back to later. Abbreviate words, paraphrase, use symbols, pictures, or diagrams.

Soon after the lesson or reading session (preferable later the same day) re-read your notes and reduce them in the left hand column by writing the keywords and main ideas. It’s important that you also write some questions about the notes as you’ll be using these for self-testing at a later date.

Finally, in a day or two, complete the Summary section by writing a two or three sentence summary. As you’re writing this ask yourself: “How would I explain this to someone else?”

Using your notes later

When revising, read over the summaries and right hand column of your notes. Test yourself by covering the main notes section and see if you can recall the key words and try to answer the questions you’ve created.Then check how well you’ve done. If you cannot fully recall everything or you make some errors, use the spare lines in the notes section to re-write the information and re-test yourself a few days later – hopefully with more success.

If this description isn’t clear enough, this Wikihow tutorial might be helpful.

TIP 2: Mind-maps

Mind-maps are a visual way to organise your thoughts around one topic using words, images and colours to display ideas and draw connections. Invented by Tony Buzan in the 1960's, Mind-mapping is a system to help you think through ideas, and show how they are connected.

As well as being enjoyable to create, mind-maps allow you to capture all the information you require on one page just like a picture and as you learn more about the topic you can make additions easily.

Imagine being able to create something as awesome as this brilliant example of The Body’s Major Systems. Note how the mind-map keeps to all of the rules. It’s so detailed, colourful and image-laden that it will maximise the chances of retaining the information presented.The ‘picture superiority effect’ teaches us human beings are better at remembering images more than words, so combining the two as part of a mind-map are a really good idea.


Creating excellent an mind-map takes time. But why not use the time you have now to try making a few of your own? Mind-maps get you to focus on using the right keywords, make connections and generate examples.

How to use this method:

1. Get a blank piece of paper and turn it sideways (landscape). A3 sized paper is better because it will allow your mind-map to grow. Have some different colour pens available to use. Ideally get they should have different thickness of tips: Thick/Broad, Fine, Superfine.

2. Start in the middle with a Central Idea which represents the topic you are going to explore. This can be likened to the trunk of a tree as everything will emerge from this. Make the central idea or image quite small.

3. Add Branches to your map. The first branches will be the main point, which then break down into sub-points. In this way a mind-map is a kind of hierarchy – the more important points in the middle branching out into less important ones.

4. Each branch should be allocated one specific colour.

5. Add Keywords - single words for each concept and so that they can be clearly read,write in BLOCK CAPITALS using black ink.

6. Finally, add images where possible. Try to create a picture for each concept.

As well as being a great note-taking method, Mind-maps can also be used to generate ideas.That’s why they’re sometimes referred to as Spray Notes – you spray your thoughts around and gradually group them.

TIP 3: Note cards

Note cards are postcard-sized pieces of card. You can easily make them yourself or use Index cards. Summarising onto a small piece of card is a good discipline. It’s an active way of taking notes and will help you retain more information compared to just reading.

Having to write very small forces you to take short-cuts such as making abbreviations and creating images.Once completed, you can test yourself by trying to recollect what is on the card. Note the things you forget and, where necessary, re-create the note card and throw the previous one away.

All three of these note-taking methods are great for self-testing or for getting someone to quiz you.


· The Cornell Method

· Mind-maps

· Note cards

A final thought from artist Vincent Van Gogh:

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.

Remember all of these methods take time. But now might be the perfect time to try out one or two of them. If you’re an adult reading this article you can try these ideas alongside a young person. If you are interested in more tips about studying away from school such as improving time management and self-motivation click the links below.

No.1: Time Management

No.2: Self-Motivation

This resource was created by Andy Griffith, director of Malit in the Community.


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