Top tip 1

Don’t write everything you hear or read into your notes – focus on key concepts, key terms, and key relationships

Top tip 2

Experiment with different note taking methods to find one that works well for you

Top tip 3

Don’t just write notes, review them

Use them as the revision and essay preparation tools they’re meant to be

When you’re juggling lectures, labs and assigned reading, how can you make sure you’ll remember it all when exams and assignments come around? Good note-taking helps you take control of your education and keep track of everything you’ve learned.

Read on for some quick note-taking tips, personalised revision tools and overall methods to transform your notes.

Quick tips to improve your note-taking

Be an active learner

Don’t try and write down everything your lecturer says, or copy articles word for word. Instead write down key concepts, key terms and key relationships.

Not sure what’s ‘key’? In both your readings and lectures, look for emphasis and repetition to guide you. Articles often have an abstract that summarises the main points of the text, and your tutors generally provide intended learning outcomes for their lectures. Be on the lookout for clues like these.  

Experiment with different note-taking methods

Have you ever read your notes and struggled to make sense of what you wrote, or why? By using a note-taking method like Cornell, Mapping or Outlining, you can instantly transform your notes into better revision tools that will still make sense to you when you look at them days or weeks later.

You may already be making notes on your laptop or mobile device, but you could also experiment with note-taking apps such as EverNote (free) or OneNote (requires Microsoft Office). The library runs an app workshop called App Slam if you want more advice.

Keep track of sources

Your tutors take plagiarism seriously, so keeping track of where you found a concept or a quote is a smart move. Try writing quotes in a different colour, or highlighting the names of information sources.

Proper referencing protects you and also shows off how much studying you’ve done, which – unlike plagiarism – tutors love to see. Bonus.

Review your notes

Don’t just write your notes and leave them to gather dust. Notes are a tool – they’re there to be used! Re-read and summarise your notes to make sure the information you’ve learned really sticks.

We’re not saying make notes about your notes. But we’re not not saying that.

Note-taking methods

Linear note-taking

The linear notes method is where you write your points one after another sequentially, using a numbered list or bullet points. This is the default note-taking style we’ve all used at one point or another:

  • Point One
  • Point Two
  • Point Three
  • Point Four

Pros: This method is useful when a lecture or reading contains a lot of information that you don’t have time to organise. Using this method lets you write down information quickly.

Cons: It can be hard to make sense of linear notes when you come back and review them later.

Improve your linear notes by upgrading to the outlining method which organises notes like this:

1. Main Heading
    a. Subheading
        i) Details of subtopic
       ii) Details of subtopic
    b. Subheading
        i) Details of subtopic
       ii) Details of subtopic
2. Main Heading
    a. Subheading
        i) Details of subtopic
       ii) Details of subtopic

Pros: The outlining method helps you describe which points are the most important (the headings) and the relationships between ideas, which makes your notes more useful as learning and revision tools.

Cons: Organising your notes into hierarchies while listening to a fast-paced lecture or reading a large text can be hard work, so this method may not be the best starting point if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Cornell note-taking

Cornell note-taking is a method in which you split your page of notes into three sections: one large section of linear notes, a column that condenses your notes to key points and topics, and finally a box summarising the notes in one paragraph.

Pros: Cornell gives you an inbuilt system for reviewing your notes, which will help you remember and recall information. Cornell notes are also excellent revision tools, as they give you a summary of what you’ve learned, key points and full details – better than many handouts or textbooks!

Cons: It’s difficult to make Cornell notes on an app or on your laptop. Try our template for Word.

How to take Cornell notes


Example of Cornell note-taking

The mapping method

Mapping is when you organise your notes visually, using lines, arrows, shapes and colour to show the relationships between pieces of information.

Pros: Mapping can help you easily show the connections between ideas and quickly review what you have learned from your reading or lectures.

Cons: Once again, mind maps are more difficult to make if you prefer to take notes on your laptop or mobile device. Try looking out for helpful apps.


Mapping example