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How to Take Useful Notes

How to Take Useful Notes


When it comes to taking notes in high school, you often have to take them using a pen and paper, so we’ll stick to some good old-fashioned ways to organize your thoughts — and teacher’s presentation — on lined notebooks!

Question As You Go

This is something we wish we’d known in high school. Leave a couple of inches of space towards the left of the page. Draw a straight line from top to bottom and, while the presentation is going on, scribble down your questions. This is especially useful if your teacher is the type that gets on a roll and doesn’t seem to breath between sentences. Pen to paper! Pen to paper!

Cornell Method

The Cornell Method is a two-parter, and it’s a widely-liked mode of note taking. You’ll need several standard pieces of lined paper (whether in a spiral or not is fine). Draw a horizontal line, from edge to edge, about 3-4 inches from the bottom. You can adjust this space as you use the system more based on what you need. You’ll draw a vertical line about 3-4 inches from the left side of the page, as well.

This should result in three boxes: a large one to the right, a thinner one to the left, and nice-sized box at the bottom. The goal is to take notes “as normal” in the largest box during class. Basically, write down all of the important bits during the presentation. When you’re reviewing these notes, you’ll write the subject of the section in the left-side box. The bottom box is to summarize what’s being conveyed on the specific page. It’s a note-taking study method all-in-one, which can be beneficial for some students.

This is a little bit hard to visualize, so watch this quick slideshow!

The Info Dump

If you’re not the kind of student that can determine what parts of the presentation are most important while having enough time to write, this method might be exactly what you need. It’s sort of like word vomit. Just write down literally everything you can scribble down as your teacher is talking. When it’s time to study, you’ll rewrite these notes. Use a simple main point — sub point — sub sub point structure.

As an example:

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Mind Mapping

If you’re very visual, you’ll likely enjoy the mind-mapping way of taking notes. It encourages pictures and graphs and visual aids to convey the information, and it can also help you stick to the point of the presentation. To start, simply write the topic of the presentation at the very center of your page. In this case, it would be “note taking.” Draw a branch out and write “mind mapping” — it’s just one of the ways to take notes! Circle “mind mapping” and draw a line to “visual aid,” and “most important words.” Check out a great example here, where you can easily absorb the four stages of mitosis!

We’ve only covered a few methods here, and there are plenty of digital options to take advantage of, as well, if you’re allowed a tablet or laptop in class. Ultimately, the best way to take notes is the way that helps you the most. Whether you need an entire army of colored pens and highlighters or prefer a standard black pen, the best method is what works for you. Don’t forget the option of recording lectures or asking for the powerpoint presentation, if one is used! There’s a reason newspaper reporters still use recorders when doing interviews — just ask your teacher’s permission, first!

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