Student Life

The Art of Productive Note Taking

Good note taking is crucial to succeeding in college. Have fun with the process of making and using your notes.

Student Contributor, Aleena Islam

September 09, 2021

The Art of Productive Note Taking
Make your notes work for you with these five tips.
This might sound a little weird, but note taking is probably one of my favorite parts of school. When I say note taking, I’m referring to detailed, aesthetic notes that will make you actually want to study them! Note taking looks different for everyone, but I’ve found that rewriting notes in funky colors and highlighters works best for me. In this article, I’ll go over some note taking tips in the hopes that you find what works best for you!

Why is Note Taking Important?

There are some instances where note taking isn’t required — but I’m here to tell you that you should probably do it anyway! Taking notes in some form prompts you to stay alert and focused on the material. It helps you concentrate, and it helps you learn, which is why you’re in class in the first place.
Whether handwritten or typed, notetaking helps you retain information better, as well as allowing you something to look back on when it comes time to study.

Types of Note Taking

In high school, I was a strict paper-and-pen student. Writing and rewriting notes was my go-to study method. However, as a college student, I started typing my notes on my laptop.
I’ve found typing simply is easier for me and my schedule, but there are still many people who find handwritten notes work best for them. When I type my notes out, I play around with colors and styles, such as italics and bold, to emphasize certain information the way I might highlight something on a piece of paper. Another type of note taking that combines handwriting notes with technology is using an iPad. While this is more popular in college than high school, it absolutely can work for any type of student. A few of my friends take notes on their iPads using an Apple Pencil, and their notes look beautiful — so beautiful that I sometimes want to study their notes for them! I also strongly recommend color-coding your notes, no matter what format you choose to take them on. Not only does color-coding make your notes look aesthetically pleasing, but there’s evidence suggesting that color-coding helps our brains retain and sort through more information
Whether you choose to go handwritten, typed, or combine them, there are many ways to take your notes, so feel free to play around until you find what works for you!

The Five R’s

You might not know the official name for this method of note taking, but you probably already incorporate some form of the Five R’s in your note taking and studying routine. The Five R’s notetaking technique is promoted by many major universities and is a great way to start taking notes and studying them.
  1. Record The first R is record, which is relatively straightforward. During your classes, lectures, videos, etc., record all information you deem important to remember. When I take handwritten notes, I typically focus on trying to jot everything down and worry about making them look nice later.
  2. Reduce Second, we’ll try to reduce all this information and pick out the main ideas. This is usually the step where I take a look at all my notes and try to decide what’s most important to know. Then, I go back and rewrite these main ideas and summaries, making it look nice and legible.
  3. Recite I usually recite my notes when I study in preparation for a quiz or test. After having written all your notes out in your preferred form, take some time to talk through all the information in your own words. Refrain from simply reciting definitions or explanations but make sense of your notes in your words. Then, go back and make sure your understanding of the information is correct.
  4. Reflect This step is often overlooked by many students, including myself at times, but it can be very helpful in retaining and applying information. Reflecting upon your notes can help you make significant connections both within and outside of the classroom. When going over your notes, try to reflect upon the information and how it applies to the class and even other classes. It may take some time to fully benefit from this step but reflecting upon your notes will make a great difference.
  5. Review The final R is review, review, review! Take a quick 5 or 10 minutes every day or week to review your notes so that, by the time the test or quiz rolls around, you’ll know just about everything. Reviewing is key for retention.
Note taking is one of the most important parts of school and academics—after all, how else will you be able to keep track of all you need to know? But it can also be one of the most fun parts if you let it! Don’t be afraid to try out different methods until you settle in a routine that helps you earn those A’s! Be creative in your notes, from using fun colors, patterns, and finding a routine that works for you.

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