What’s your favourite note-taking system?

By Bryn Berry, 3rd-year Commerce student

What’s your favourite note-taking system? Take this quiz to find out, and then try some new note-taking ideas at the end!

Here’s how to interpret your results:

If you are a notebook ninja

Invest in a spiral bound notebook for each class, and get some colourful pens, because this system is all about taking handwritten notes in class and while reading. It helps to take notes while you read, underlining or highlighting key words and noting page numbers in brackets. Don’t forget to organize your notes by chapter or concept so that it matches up to your textbook or readings. When in class, take jot notes in your own words of what the professor is presenting. Again, underline or highlight important concepts.

Not sure what’s important? Listen to how the professor’s tone or intonation changes, whether he/she repeats a concept or statement, or if he/she slows down. To reconcile your notes, return to your reading notes and identify concepts the professor focused on in class. Use another colour and note links between the material in the textbook and the material covered in class. You’ll be a notebook ninja in no time.

For more on how to take effective notes, check out Note-making Strategies.


If you are a slide superhero

Invest in a binder for each class, and make sure you have a highlighter or colourful pens. It is crucial you print out the slides ahead of time. Decide on whether you prefer to have 2, 4, or 6 slides to a page, and whether you like it portrait or landscape orientation. Be consistent — otherwise, you’ll be flipping your binder around and around as you’re studying. Use class time efficiently; underline or highlight important concepts and make sure to note down in your own words what the professor is taking extra time to explain (or what he or she is skipping entirely). This will help you prioritize when you’re studying.

Write out examples the professor puts on the board using the back side of the previous page (so that the concept is open on one side, next to the example). Remember that it might seem obvious now what that acronym stands for or why those numbers are being plugged in to that formula, but in 3 months, it might not be. Take the extra few seconds to write little explanations to yourself – you will thank yourself later, since summarizing ideas in your own words will help your understanding and memory. Finally, review your slides and notes after class. It’s absolutely critical to review notes, or you will forget a large majority of what you’ve learned. Now, where’s my cape?


If you are a tech tackler

You would probably enjoy keeping your notes on a computer or tablet to keep things portable (no more heavy binders) and organized. A fantastic note-organizing application is Microsoft OneNote (part of the Office suite, alongside Word, Excel, and PowerPoint). It allows you to create “notebooks” for each course you’re enrolled in (as well as extra-curriculars!) and syncs online to your free Microsoft account. You can then access your notebooks from any computer with internet access, as well as from your iPad using the free OneNote app on the App Store!

Each notebook allows you to create tabs within each – try using a “tab” for each week of class or major unit of study to keep things organized. OneNote allows you to include slides from the course website and annotate them with your mouse or stylus, and also allows you to type anywhere on the page (goodbye, muddling with Microsoft Word). Also, the program “indexes” the text on your slides so you can do a quick Control-F search to find anything, anywhere! Techies and organization lovers, rejoice.

If you’ve never tried writing by hand, though, we also recommend giving that a try for a couple weeks — while typing notes on a laptop is faster, lots of research shows that hand-writing will improve your retention and understanding of the information. Typing on a laptop happens so quickly that your brain doesn’t get a chance to process or think critically about the information!


If you are a mind mapping machine

It may help you to organize and structure your thoughts in a visual way. We recommend a mind map, which is an interconnected web of thoughts that shows hierarchy and relationships. Think of it as mapping all the connections in your brain. X is connected to Y, which is connected to Z, which has three parts: A, B, C… One good way to approach this is to use a large sheet of paper and different coloured pens or markers. Put the main concept in the middle of the page, and build outwards. This technique is great for making summaries or condensing information that is so detail oriented that you start to forget how it all fits together. It should not be used in isolation, though, as you will likely need those details recorded somewhere in order to prepare adequately for exams. Your mind map can use memory prompts, such as notable examples you associate with a concept or a key acronym. Happy mapping!

For more on mind maps and other visual ways of presenting information, check out Graphic Organizers.


No matter what your type is — or even if you don’t fit into the quiz at all — remember that previewing and reviewing your notes can double your retention of the information! Set aside an hour at the end of each week to look over what you learned, create a few summary sheets, and follow up on any gaps or questions you still have.

Photo courtesy of Dean Hochman under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.