Notetaking Hacks: Supercharge Your College Experience with These Notetaking Tips

These are the sorts of conclusions that find their way onto exams, but they can trip up some students since they aren’t top-level outline points. You’ll want to distinguish these in some way from other subpoints or notes.

person writing on notepad

How to Take Notes in College: Efficiently and Effectively

Our memories, the things we know, learn, and remember, make us who we are. Yet, forgetting seems to be part of human nature. How many times have you gone to the store for one thing and then returned with a few other items minus the thing you went there for? Or how often have you made the mistake of not writing down something important that the professor said, thinking you would not forget it, and then did?

Well, according to research, note-taking is an effective way of encoding information in a way that is better stored in your long-term memory. To put it simply, note-taking can help you remember. As students, you might be interested in learning more about the best way to take notes in college, so you can better understand and remember the valuable lessons from your courses.

Why Take Notes?

Note-taking provides several benefits related to understanding and remembering information. If you take notes in class, you will be more engaged with the material and avoid that feeling of drowsiness that can sometimes overpower students, especially during long lectures. You will also be simultaneously developing your organizational skills. The process of listening and choosing the most crucial information, highlighting key ideas, and identifying important structures, will come in handy in the future. Last but not least, you should take notes so that you are better prepared for the long study sessions once finals approach. Having notes will make the process of reviewing and studying much easier.

To know how to take notes in college, you should first understand the various strategies and choose the one that best fits you and the subject you are working on. Below, we will go through some of the most popular options, and hopefully, you will find one or more note-taking strategies for college that will be convenient for you.

The mind map

This note-taking strategy is ideal for subjects where there are many interlocking topics, such as philosophy, history, or chemistry. Let’s say you are discussing the theory of truth in a philosophy class. You place the name inside a circle in the center and then start to branch out the various theories your professor mentions. You can continue branching out more information linked to the previous theory circles, such as the definition for each one, what philosophers said about them, and anything else you deem important until your mind map seems complete.

Flow notes

If you are not a big fan of rules, then you will love this strategy. When taking flow notes, you can jot down anything you deem important in any way you want—write titles, words, doodles, arrows, and squares with information in them. As the name suggests, just let the information flow in any way that helps you engage with the material.

Writing on slides

This is the strategy that requires the least amount of effort to gather information. Professor put effort into summarizing and visualizing their lectures through the slides they presented. All you have to do is ask your professor whether they can share the slides from the class presentations with you. Then, go ahead and print them out so you can use them during your study sessions.

Bullet journaling


Sometimes, it is easier to review material through notes when they include lists and bullet points that you can quickly skim and scan. The bullet journal strategy of note-taking focuses on interpreting the central ideas through clear and organized notes. Although it might be difficult to write everything clearly and quickly during the lecture, you can adapt your notes from various strategies into bullet points once you review them at home.

The outline

One of the easiest methods of taking notes is by creating outlines. You begin by picking a few key points related to the lecture you are listening to, then under each one, write sub-points of information the professor provides. Although it is easier to write full sentences, this strategy is also messier and might need rearranging once you review it.

The Cornell method

Unlike the previous method, the Cornell one does not use long sentences but instead categorizes short notes into three main sections. Most of the page is taken by notes, such as names, dates, phrases, and so on. This column is placed on the right-hand side of the page. Then, to its left, you start listing keywords related to the lecture and your notes, and at the bottom of the page, you shortly summarize everything into a few sentences.

Use Abbreviations

Abbreviations are everywhere and for good reason. They save time and can even work as memory aids. Whether you’re typing or writing by hand, you simply don’t need to write out everything. Find a way to abbreviate your course name, for example. (History of Civilization already gets cut down to History of Civ. But for your handwriting purposes, why not cut it down to HCiv?)

When it comes to taking good notes in college, you’ll never capture everything—not effectively, anyway. It’s far better to focus on the main points. Many lecturers are working from an outline, and even if they aren’t, their main points may naturally follow one.

Note the topic of the lecture, then form the points into outlines. Not only will this help you avoid trying to write down absolutely everything, but it will also bring a structure to your notes that should greatly increase the quality of both your learning and recall.

Use Visual Elements

Taking notes tends to be a pretty text-based affair. But with a little creativity and imagination, you can enhance your notes with visual elements. Some aspects of learning are far easier to sketch in a diagram or illustration form than they are to write out verbatim. If you have the ability, consider illustrating certain visual elements rather than just writing words about them.

Snapping photos can be another great tactic to enhance your notetaking. Now, some lecturers may be leery of this, so you may need to explain your intentions. But snapping a quick photo of a particularly text-heavy PowerPoint slide can save you a lot of mindless writing and help you focus on what you’re hearing instead.

If you’re using a notetaking app, you’ll be able to drop these photos directly into your notes. Make sure to do so the same day, though, so you’re not scrambling later on trying to figure out which photo goes with which section.

In-Depth: The Mind Map

first mind map

The mind map is a great way of taking notes for specific types of subjects. Class subjects like chemistry, history, and philosophy that have interlocking topics or complex, abstract ideas are perfect for this method. Use the mind map to get a handle on how certain topics relate, or to go in-depth with one particular idea.

For instance, if you’re attending a lecture about the Fall of the Roman Empire, start with that concept in the center and then draw “nodes” of all the things that led to Rome’s fall as your professor lists them. Things like debt, irresponsible emperors, attacks from the surrounding barbarian tribes, and so on.

Later, to review, go more in-depth and add smaller sub-concepts onto each branch. Things like dates, formulas, supporting facts, and related concepts make for great branches. In the end, it might look something like this:

expanded mindmap

Holistic: Flow Notes

This note-taking method is great for students looking to maximize their active learning within the classroom and minimize their review time later. The point of flow notes is to treat yourself like the student you are, and not a lecture-transcribing machine.

Perhaps you’re in history class and your professor is talking about the Battle of Hastings, and you remember that it happened in 1066 and that there were other things happening across the globe in the year 1066, too. Write those facts down and draw connections.

Caution: while this method is great for learning in the moment, it can be difficult to review flow notes later. If you’re an auditory and visual learner and retain a lot of what you learn from your lectures, maybe that works fine for you. If not, try pairing your flow notes with the Cornell Method to make them easier to review for tests.