Methods for more Effective Note Taking

Note-taking is the art of being able to commit to paper sufficient information from a verbal educational or training session so that you can recall and research the subject at a later date without any problem. Effective note-taking is a method that lies somewhere between making no notes at all and the creation of note that are so copious it takes as much time to digest them as was spent in the original learning session.

There are a few steps that can be taken in order to change note-taking from a jumble of disorganised and unrelated words and phrases hurriedly committed to a page into a succinct and relevant guide and reminder from which the content of a learning session is appropriately recorded. These apply equally to written or computer generated note taking and one does not have to be an expert in shorthand or any other complex process to create this efficiency.


The most important element of effective note-taking is organisation. It is surprising how many people in a learning environment will use one note book or computer file to make continuous notes over weeks and months, without having any differentiation between the sessions or even the subjects being studied. When reviewing or revising these notes it is therefore not surprising that they have to spend precious time trying to locate the right notes amongst a jumble of others.

To make note-taking effective and efficient it is important to certainly divide the various subjects being studied into separate note-books or computer files, which are clearly marked for that specific purpose. These books should then be the only ones that are used for note-taking related to that subject, therefore avoiding mixing the data from individual elements of the learning process and making the study process a lot easier.

The second aspect of organisation is to indicate clearly the different learning sessions within the note book of files. In other words it is important not to allow the notes on the different sessions to form a continuous stream of words throughout the book. The notes for each session should be started on a fresh page or word file, each of which has a date and the title of the session at the top of that new page.


The next most important step of course is the content of the notes. There can be nothing worse than sitting at your study area late at night banging your head against the desk because you do not have a clue what the notes you have made mean.

The content and structure of the notes made is essential to you. Most learning sessions are broken down into several key elements or phases. To make your notes effective they should follow this structure. In other words your notes should begin by listing the sections in order, which can be done by a numbering system. Within these sections all you then need to do is to highlight or bullet point the most essential points that are being discussed. This will provide you with a solid framework related to the learning that will stand you in good stead for later revision and research.

One other essential thing to remember in note-taking is to jot down in sufficient detail any reference material, such as an academic publication or journal, which is referred to by the tutor or trainer. You will need this for your own studies into the subject.


A crucial point that many students or trainees fail to remember is a review of the notes taken. This should happen immediately following the learning session or as close to that time as possible. The purpose of this review is to ensure that your notes contain all of the salient and relevant points that were referred to within the learning session. This review needs to be completed sooner rather than later as you will be better able to remember any omissions and rectify these within your notes.

Effective note-taking is an art, but it is one that anyone can learn. All it takes is a disciplined approach and a little care and attention to detail. The savings in terms of time and frustration, together with the improvement of recall and learning, will be worth the small amount of extra effort that is required.