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Learn the Latest Note-Taking Techniques

Decades of research shows that students who use note-taking techniques and review their notes before a test outscore students who do not. However, recent studies show that not all note-taking techniques are created equal. Learn what the experts have to say, including whether you should be typing them on your laptop.

Choose a Technique

The biggest hurdle for most students is organizing notes while they listen at the same time. To efficiently create order, review the major note-taking techniques and select the method that best suits the material, pace and your learning style. For example, the charting method involves drawing columns much like a spreadsheet with headings for dates, names and events. Good for chronological subjects such as history, the charting method helps students who have trouble prioritizing just the facts or keeping up in fast-paced lectures.

Conversely, the outlining method allows for complicated notes. This method has students create indentations to distinguish between major categories and supporting facts. The simple system lets students write down more material while distinguishing between increasing levels of detail. Other techniques include the map method, which favors visual learners, and the Cornell method, which omits the need to recopy notes by leaving space in the margins to write study cues.

Use Pen and Paper

Sometimes the latest note-taking techniques are actually old-fashioned. A 2014 study from Princeton University reveals that students retain information better when they take notes with pen and paper versus typing. Researchers asked students conceptual questions about a lecture they just heard and found those who wrote longhand outperformed their peers on laptops, despite the fact the typers wrote more notes. The research shows a longhand bonus for studying, too. Students who looked over handwritten notes a week later scored better on the big test than those who reviewed typed notes.


Despite the power of note taking, students do not always record information accurately, especially visual material. A 1994 study by Johnstone and Su shows students make the most errors when copying diagrams, equations and numerical figures. Catch mistakes before you commit them to memory by taking a photo before you draw, then double-check your work after class.

You can also use audio recordings to clarify details such as hard-to-spell terms and complicated scientific processes. If your professor is a fast talker, you may even regularly record lectures, and then use an online transcription service to quickly get the script. However, do not skip note taking entirely. That 2014 Princeton study also found students who rephrase the professor’s lecture into their own words have better memory retention compared to students who copy verbatim, suggesting rewording increases deeper learning.

Even veteran note takers can improve their study habits by conscientiously selecting a note-taking technique and writing longhand. Remember to review before tests since even students who take the best notes do not score better if they fail to study them. For advice on how to make the most of study time, including note-taking methods and productivity tips, check out Transcribe on Twitter at @TranscribeCom.