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  • Writer's pictureSaeed Anwar Anuj

Art of note-taking (1): exploring popular note-taking methods for navigating the academic labyrinth

In the bustling world of academia, note-taking is an essential skill that can make or break your success. With lectures brimming with wisdom and textbooks teeming with knowledge, how does one capture, organize, and retain this information effectively? Fear not, intrepid learners, for I have ventured into the realm of note-taking techniques to bring you an overview of popular methods that cater to a variety of learning styles. Find your perfect match and unlock your full academic potential.



The Classic Methods: Tried and True Techniques

The Classic Methods have stood the test of time and continue to be popular among students for their simplicity and effectiveness. These techniques focus on organizing information in a structured manner, making it easier to review and understand the material.


(i) Outline Method

The Outline Method organizes information hierarchically, using headings and subheadings to structure content. This technique is ideal for structured lectures or readings, allowing students to quickly grasp the main points and supporting details. The logical organization of the Outline Method makes it easy to review and revise notes, enhancing comprehension and retention.


(ii) Cornell Method

Developed by Walter Pauk at Cornell University, the Cornell Method divides the page into three sections: cues/keywords/questions, main notes, and summary. This structure encourages active engagement and improved retention by prompting students to interact with their notes, ask questions, and create summaries. The Cornell Method is particularly effective for consolidating lecture content and identifying gaps in understanding.


(iii) Sentence Method

The Sentence Method involves writing notes in complete sentences, making it effective for capturing detailed information and explanations. Although this method may be time-consuming during fast-paced lectures, it can help students create comprehensive notes that provide a thorough understanding of the material. The Sentence Method is suitable for those who prefer detailed and organized notes, but it may not be the best choice for visual learners.


(iv) Mapping Method (Mind Mapping)

The Mapping Method, also known as Mind Mapping, is a visual representation of information and connections between concepts. This technique encourages creativity and engagement with the material, making it useful for brainstorming, studying, and understanding complex topics. Mind Mapping allows students to see the bigger picture and identify relationships between ideas, supporting deeper learning and retention.



The Visual and Comparative Approaches: Seeing is Believing

The Visual and Comparative Approaches emphasize the use of visual elements and the comparison of data or concepts. These methods cater to visual learners and those who prefer to understand information through patterns, relationships, and graphical representations.


(i) Charting Method

The Charting Method organizes information into columns and rows, making it effective for comparing and contrasting data or concepts. This approach works well for capturing numerical or statistical information, helping students to quickly identify patterns and trends. The Charting Method is ideal for subjects that require a clear understanding of relationships between different data points, such as economics, statistics, or history.


(ii) Box Method

The Box Method organizes information into separate boxes or sections, allowing for easy organization and navigation. This approach works well for summarizing and revising content, as it helps students quickly locate and review specific information. The Box Method is particularly useful for visual learners and can be adapted to suit various subjects and topics.



The Comprehensive and Digital Alternatives: Embracing Innovation and Depth

The Comprehensive and Digital Alternatives explore note-taking techniques that go beyond traditional pen-and-paper methods. These approaches include comprehensive systems that promote deeper understanding and retention, as well as the use of digital tools to enhance organization, searchability, and multimedia capabilities.


(i) SQ3R Method (Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review)

The SQ3R Method is a comprehensive approach to reading and note-taking that encourages active engagement with the material through questioning, reading, reciting, and reviewing. This method is particularly useful for textbook readings and self-study, as it promotes deep understanding and long-term retention of information. The SQ3R Method requires discipline and dedication but can yield significant benefits for those who commit to its principles.


(ii) Digital Note-taking

Digital note-taking involves using digital tools and apps to take and organize notes. This approach offers flexibility, searchability, and multimedia capabilities, making it an attractive option for tech-savvy students. Popular apps such as Obsidian, Microsoft OneNote, Apple Notes, Google Keep, Evernote, Joplin, and Notion provide powerful features that can help students create, organize, and share their notes with ease.



Crafting Your Unique Note-taking Strategy: The Power of Personalization

As you explore and experiment with different note-taking methods, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The best approach is often a combination of techniques tailored to your unique learning style and preferences. By adopting elements from various methods, you can create a personalized note-taking system that maximizes your understanding, retention, and academic success. Embrace the process of trial and error, and don't be afraid to make adjustments as you discover what works best for you.



Finding the right note-taking method is a kind of journey of self-discovery and a crucial step toward academic success. Experiment with the techniques outlined above and discover which method resonates with your unique learning style. Remember, the path to mastery is paved with persistence and adaptation, so don't be afraid to mix and match techniques or create your own customized approach.


Stay tuned for my follow-up post, where I will try to explore an alternative minimalist note-taking approach that I found quite effective for me.



14 February 2023

Saeed Anwar

Edmonton, Canada




NB: The content of this write-up was inspired by a lecture delivered by Mohammed Zakee Shaikh at the IlmHub Center in Edmonton, Canada


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