How many times have you listened to a presenter and forgotten what they said moments after the presentation?
Learning is important for our growth. We should take advantage of the opportunities we have to hear from experts. If you can’t remember what they say afterwards, then it’s time to start improving your note taking.
Note taking is an art that takes practice and discipline. It certainly isn’t easy when a flood of information is coming towards you and you have to decipher what’s important to write down and what’s not.
This list of 17 note taking tips will help you in any class, presentation, or meeting:
1. Determine important content
Note taking should never be a transcript of every word said, but rather a summary of important information and questions.
If you’re going into a history class, you’ll want to remember names and dates especially. If a coworker is doing a training on SEO, you’ll want to pay more attention to terminology and recommended practices.
Anticipate before any presentation, meeting, or class what kind of content will be important to remember later.
2. Eliminate distractions
Remember when your teacher turned off your phone in class? That might still be a good idea.
Whatever you find unnecessarily steals your attention during presentations needs to be eliminated as a distraction.
If you are taking notes on a digital device, close any unrelated applications or resources. If you know that Hank from accounting is going to talk to you a lot, maybe you sit next to someone else.
The point is to keep all of your attention focused on the subject material and note taking.
3. Keep calm
If you’re too nervous about note taking, you’ll probably make mistakes. Understand that your notes probably won’t be perfect every time, but you can always get help and clarification later.
Note taking is difficult, so acknowledge your mistakes and improve on them.
4. Go digital
Use an app, online tool, or software. Note taking apps are available for your laptop, tablet, or phone. They make it easy to take fast notes and add things such as photos, links, checklists, and locations.
If you feel like your handwriting is hard to read later, typing your notes will fix that. If you find yourself madly erasing after not organizing your notes correctly, than being able to copy-paste or hit control-Z can save you lots of valuable time.
5. Start sketching
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Many people understand concepts better in a visual context.
Try sketching some drawings to go around the notes you write. It can quickly jog your memory about what you were thinking and makes your notes more entertaining to go through later.
Just don’t get carried away and miss the important stuff. You will still want to combine drawings with plenty of actual words.
6. Make something visual
Take your notes and organize them visually. If drawing isn’t your thing, you can still add some flair to your notes. Use something like microsoft publisher to inject some creativity into your notes.
Imagine your flyer is going to be used to teach someone else as you create it. This method forces you to spend more time with the content and can help organize it in such a way that makes more sense to you.
7. Mapping method
The mapping method of note taking is based on diagramming your notes. It looks like a flowchart or a spider’s web between topics and subtopics. It’s a nice way to visually organize your notes that may be interconnected.
8. Cornell note taking method
The Cornell method is a great approach for organizing your notes into easily reviewable sections.
You draw a line a couple inches from the bottom and then another line a couple inches from the left side, to create three boxes. The largest section you use to take notes however you’d like. The smaller left portion is for short cues to remind you what to specifically study later. The bottom section is where you write a summary of what you learned.
9. Outline method
The outline method turns your notes into easily digestible bullet points.
Write them like you’re outlining a story. You’ll have main points from individual topics or subjects, then write bullet points underneath each one with the supporting information.
10. Charting method
With the charting method, you will make a table with categories to be filled out. This is fantastic for organizing material that you know will follow a particular outline.
For example, if you are learning about different types of animals, you can make columns about where each animal lives, what does it eat, and how long it typically lives. Each row would have a different animal and you simply go across your columns and answer each question.
11. Sentence method
Write down important points from the lecture in a basic sentence structure. You can add headers and separate your sentences into their own lines to help keep organization.
This works especially well for writing down useful quotes or statistics.
12. Record it
If you worry about missing important details or find yourself a better studier by listening, then you should record the presentation or class.
Use your phone’s recording system or get software that automatically transcribes what’s being said. There are technical limitations with transcription software, so you may need to watch it carefully to correct any mistakes.
13. Ask for clarification
Your notes are close to worthless if you don’t understand them while writing them. Make sure to ask the teacher or presenter any questions you may have. Chances are someone else will be grateful that you asked about the same thing they were confused about.
Take courage and work hard to understand the concepts the first time around so that you’re not even more confused later on.
14. Summarize afterwards
After a class, presentation or meeting, write down a summary of what the key points were. This is important for memory retention of the subject material and to see if you have any lingering questions to be addressed.
Good summaries should include not only the key points, but also further applications to the subject material, questions to be researched, and a list of tasks to be completed.
15. Continue the discussion
Once you’re done with listening and note taking, turn to someone nearby and talk with them about what you learned.
You can ask them questions about what stood out to them or what changes they would like to make based on the material. You can ask questions about things you perhaps misunderstood or did not receive a clear answer to.
Continuing the discussion with someone else is an excellent way of applying the material and cementing it in your memory.
If you have a meaningful conversation about it, that information has a much greater likelihood of being retained.
16. Review your notes
What you retain from the first time you take notes will quickly fade if you do not review them later. Hopefully, you have used one of the above methods to make your notes easy to go through and perhaps even entertaining.
The important thing is that you take the time to go over your notes later so that you can remember what you learned and further reflect upon the points made.
17. Share what you learned
Even better than reviewing your notes is reviewing them with someone else. This gives you the opportunity to teach what you’ve learned.
Use a flyer creator to creatively showcase what you’ve learned. Doing so will help you realize points you did not fully understand or need to better review.
Your review partner may even come up with valuable questions for you to reflect upon and apply to your notes.
Don’t be afraid to mix up some of these note taking methods together. You may find that a portion of your notes is better organizing in an outline format, but then decide that you need to make a chart for another portion.
The point is to be organized and do what makes the most sense for you. Even if the person next to you is clearly organizing their notes according to the Cornell method, perhaps a different strategy will appeal to you more. Note taking is meant for yourself, so do it in whatever way is best for you.
Now you have the chance to use what you have learned. Note taking is only valuable when it serves a purpose later.
If you learn something interesting, come up with ways to apply it at work or in your home. Review your notes often to find different applications. Use the knowledge you have gained to make a difference in your life or the lives of others.