The Art of Note-Taking

Updated: Oct 16, 2020


With the ever-growing pressure on students to achieve at a high standard, coupled with the fierce competition to gain acceptance into top universities, performing well in exams is a must. In order to do this, most students are under the impression that it all comes down to studies. But what if how well you do depends not only on how you study, but how well you take notes? ​Could such a basic and seemingly simple practise be the thing jeopardising your chances from the outset?

Note-taking is defined as ‘the practice of recording information captured from another source.’ Although commonplace, how many of us actually understand the fundamental principle of this exercise? The point of taking notes is to document the ​essence of the information in a way that sparks recollection of stored data in the brain. With note-taking playing such an undeniable role in the paving of our futures, it is paramount that it is performed in the most effective manner.

For optimal note-taking, it is advised that topics being discussed in the lecture or class are familiarised beforehand. This ensures you have a clear idea of the concepts covered and allows for a deeper understanding of the material being taught.

Nutrition is one of the most overlooked aspects when it comes to note-taking or learning in general. Adequate hydration and food intake are essential as insufficient nutrients impair normal brain function, meaning you are unable to operate or think at your best. This not only leads to suboptimal note-taking - but poor retention of any information presented to you during the class.

With the array of technological advancements at our disposal, choosing the correct means of note-taking is invaluable. While taking notes on a laptop may seem more appealing at first, it begs the question of whether or not this method allows for optimal understanding and retention of information. Also, it is vital that the laptop is used in an appropriate manner ensuring it does not become a hindrance or distraction. Ultimately, it is up to you whether you take your notes by hand or on technology but learn what works for you before making an informed decision.

Now to the actual note-taking. It is vital that a system of note-taking be implemented, as opposed to a long page of random notes that are unlikely to be absorbed. The Cornell Method is one of the most reputable and favoured systems of note-taking as it works by demanding active summary of data in the words of the student. This system can be adapted to suit the needs of an array of school and college subjects and encompasses 6 simple steps as follows; record, question, recite, reflect, recapitulate and review. The Cornell Method highlights 3 key areas: firstly, it encourages processed data to be retained, effectively enhancing memory. Additionally, it advocates concentration in students and organises the tasks of listening, interpreting and writing. Finally, this system provides an automatic means of testing the material for the student

Research has made it abundantly clear that note-taking is a critical factor in achieving academic success and therefore employing a structured system is essential. Each student has methods that work for them and it is paramount that you find a strategy that works for you. Put yourself on the best path from the start by note-taking effectively and that dream of performing well may not be so much of a dream but a reality.


Zarli Dickinson - Managing Editor