Note-making Methods and Strategies

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SQ4R method*Using SQ4R to read a research paperConStruct procedure = concept + structuringMultipass MethodThe Cornell systemStudy skills using graphic organizersNote-making with mind mapsWhy you should read aloudCreating notes from a recorded lecture

SQ4R method for studying textbooks



  1. The whole book
    1. Read preface, table of contents
    2. Leaf through book to get acquainted with the organization and style
    3. Check for appendices, types of indices that can be useful
  2. Individual Chapters
    1. Take a few minutes to consider the title.
    2. Then look at all illustrations, diagrams, graphs.
    3. Quickly read the introduction, summary and review questions.
    4. Glance at all key words, bolded text, questions for consideration, problem sets.



While surveying, always read with a question in mind. This makes reading more active, which aids concentration and retention. You’ll also find it‘s easier to identify the ‘important’ issues AND you will therefore end up with fewer notes to review.

  1. The easiest way to do this is to turn all subheadings into questions.
  2. Read actively asking why, when, who, etc.
  3. Question all statement of fact and the evidence they are based on.
  4. Concentrate on relationships based on concepts introduced earlier.



The next step is…

  1. Read section-by-section, actively seeking the ‘answer’ to the ‘question’ you’ve posed.
  2. Once you’ve found the answer, highlight or underline it in the textbook and write the key word or an abbreviated question in the margin. Don’t highlight/underline too much!
  3. While you read, make notes! Point-form, in your words, at the end of each section.


Although it may, at first, seem more time-consuming than simply reading the text, you are reading, making notes, AND studying for exams in a single process.


Before you go on to read the next section…


  1. Cover up the text that you’ve just read and answer (out loud is best) the ‘question’ that you’ve written in the margin.
  2. If you can‘t answer it, read the text again, cover it up, and try to answer the ‘question’ once
  3. Only read the next section when you can successfully answer the ‘question(s)’ that you’ve


At the end of your study session, don‘t just close up your book and forget what you’ve done.

  1. Take a 5 minute break and then…
  2. Go back to the material that you started reading at the beginning and then…
  3. Take 5-10 minutes to repeat the process outlined under ‘recite’.



Mind-map of SQ4R

 mind map of SQ4R


Created using

Using SQ4R to read a research paper


  1. Don‘t read the paper: Get an OVERVIEW of the paper
  2. Ask yourself what the paper is about by:
    • reading the title and abstract.
    • reading the conclusion.
  3. Read the introduction.
  4. Read the section headings.
  5. Read tables, graphs, and captions.
  6. See who wrote the paper, where, and when it was published.
  7. Skim the references and bibliography: see if the author includes relevant related work.


Examine the assumptions and ask:

  1. Do their results rely on any assumptions in trends in the environment? Are these assumptions reasonable?
  2. Examine the methods and ask:
    • Did they measure what they claim? Did they explain what they observed?
    • Did they have adequate controls? Were tests carried out in a standard way?
  3. Examine the statistics and ask:
    • Were appropriate statistical tests applied? Was proper error analysis used?
    • Are the results statistically significant?
  4. Examine the conclusions and ask:
    • Do the conclusions follow logically from the observations? What other explanations are there from the observed effects?
    • What other conclusions or correlations are there that was not pointed out?

Also see guided questions in How to Read a Research Paper.

Read & react

  • Take notes
  • Highlight major points.
  • Place this work with your own experience.
  • If you disagree with a statement, note your objection. If you find an agreeable statement, write it down.

Recite & review

See ideas suggested in the generic SQ4R model.

Adapted from Professor Gordon J. Pace.

ConStruct procedure = concept + structuring

Goal: to identify and prioritize important ideas and main points in readings

Method: uses a diagram to show the conceptual relationships in a selection of readings


  1. Skim read a selection. Survey the headings, subheadings, intro and conclusion paragraphs, topic sentences, figures and illustrations.
  2. Diagram: make a descriptive and/or sequential diagram or mindmap of the key concepts. It must include enough information to act as a framework for the next 3 steps.
  3. Read the selection thoroughly. Try to understand the meaning of the text but you don‘t have to remember everything. Non-essential information is ignored at this point. After the second reading, add all the essential information to the diagram.
  4. Before beginning the last reading, check your diagram and make sure you understand everything. If not, go back to the reading and check for clarification.
  5. Finally, scan the text for all non-essential data. Add any non-essential data to the diagram that will help you clarify and understand the concepts.
  6. Review the diagram.

diagram for ConStruct method

Multipass Method

Goal: allows reader to extract information from a text without having to read it thoroughly

Method: the text must have questions provided either in the text or by the instructor/professor


  1. Survey: Do a quick read/skim of thetext. You may wish to take brief point-form notes.
  2. Size-up: Evaluate your understanding of what you learned from the Survey by using the questions provided. The purpose is to help learners get as much from the reading as possible without reading it from start to finish. Add to your notes if you can.
  3. Sorting-out: Review your notes and try to answer the questions provided. If you cannot answer the questions, go back to the reading and find the appropriate answer.

The Cornell System

The Cornell note-taking system is for students who want to improve the organization of their notes. It was developed by Walter Pauk, an emeritus professor of education, at Cornell University. Learn more about this system in Pauk‘s How to Study in College (5th edition).

Page layout

The distinguishing feature of the Cornell system is the layout of the pages on which you take your notes. The page layout includes large margins on the left — the ‘Cue Column’ at 2.5 inches — and the bottom of the page there are 2 inches in which to write a brief summary. To the right of the Cue Column is the Note-taking Column, comprising 6 inches.


In the Cue Column write a key word, phrase, and/or question that will serve to toggle your memory of the ideas you wrote in the Note-taking Column. When using the Cornell system with SQ4R, the words and questions in the Cue Column are recited out loud during the ‘Recite’ phase. Thereafter, you may wish to fold over the Cue Column to use during the ‘Review’ phase.

cornell method diagram

Study skills using graphic organizers

Graphic Organizers provide ways to organize ideas or information visually, thus deepening understanding and increasing retention. Below are a few different types of Graphic Organizers which summarize some important study skills for university students.

Hierarchy: How to learn at university

 Select, organize, use flow chart


Mind map: Strategies for remembering

 strategies for remembering mind map


Grid/Table: Using study time effectively

Kind of studying Approx. time frame Example
Memorizing Short, repeated sessions (20-30 min.) Biology: parts of the eye French: vocab, verbs
Reading Medium length, focused sessions (45- 60 min.) (Partial) textbook chapter Journal article
Writing Longer sessions with breaks (60+ min.) Research paper, essay, lab report
Problem-solving Longer sessions with breaks (60+ min.) Math, Chemistry, Stats, Accounting, Physics

Cycle or process: Note-taking

 before class, after class, and during class cycle diagram


Procedure or steps flow-chart: Study reading

 survey. [redict or question, skim, or read, and review flow chart

Source: LASSA Conference; November, 1998, Mary O’Malley, Concordia University, Montreal

Note-making with mind maps

 theories of personality mindmap

Why use a mind map?

Mind maps use your whole brain, both left and right brain functions.

  • Left: contains lists and sequences and show relationships
  • Right: shows a picture of a Visual patterns provide a framework for recall
  • Mind maps are both verbal (words) and non-verbal (pictures, symbols, colours).

Need to use BOTH brain hemispheres to be a Master Student!

How will making a mind map help me read and retain information?

  • Show relationships between ideas quickly, vividly, accurately
  • Using key words, condenses a large subject into a small area
  • Moves thinking from the general to the specific: start by choosing a main topic and focusing on the big picture and then zero in on the subordinate ideas
  • Can review quickly by looking at key words
  • Improves long-term memory: the picture enters your memory quickly and when visualized, will incite memory

How to use a use mind map?

  • Taking notes from text
  • Brainstorming a topic
  • Planning and organizing ideas
  • Linking main ideas to smaller details
  • Summarizing
  • Taking lecture notes

NOTE: Mind maps don’t have to include all the ideas in your readings. Instead, you can link mind maps.


  • Draw up a mind map that sums up the 5 key points in a chapter.
  • Then make a separate, more detailed mind map for each of those key points.
  • Within each mind map, include references to other mind maps. It helps you see relationships among many ideas.


Using mind maps with the Cornell notes

You can use Mind Maps alongside the Cornell notes. How?

  • Divide notepaper in half: ½ for a mind map, ½ for information more suited to traditional paragraph method.
  • You can also add mind maps INTO your paragraph-style notes.
  • Mind maps are also useful for summarizing notes taken in Cornell format.


Source: Ellis, D. (2000). Becoming a Master Student. Canadian 3rd Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


Combining Cornell with mind maps

Main Ideas Details

Cornell notes

  • Can be used to provide an outline of the course, chapter, or lecture.
  • Organized by main ideas and details.
  • Can be as detailed as necessary.
  • Sequential- take notes as they are given by instructor or text in an orderly fashion.
  • After class, write a summary of what you learned to clarify and reinforce learning and to assist retention.
  • Can be used as study tool:
    • Define terms or explain concepts listed on the left side.
    • Identify the concept or term based on its definition on the right side
Semantic map or web
  • Can be used to provide a “big picture” of the course, chapter, or lecture.
  • Organized by main ideas and sub-topics.
  • Limited in how much detail you can represent.
  • Simultaneous – you can use this method for instructors who jump around from topic to topic.
  • After class, you will probably need to “translate” notes into a Cornell format.
  • Can be used as a study tool to get a quick overview and to determine whether you need more information or need to concentrate your study on specific topics.

There are a couple of ways that you can take notes. The Cornell method is best when the information is given in a sequential, orderly fashion and allows for more detail. The semantic web/map method works best for instructors who skip around from topic to topic, and provides a “big picture” when you’re previewing materials or getting ready to study for a test.

Source: Workshop presented by Marlene Mcintosh and Diane Berzins, “Integrating Assistive Technology and Learning Strategies.” Cambrian College. Date unknown.

Why you should read aloud

Argument #1

Neuro-muscular Memory: thinking + saying it out loud = helps to ingrain information in your memory

Getting vocal chords involved in thinking, forces the neurotransmitters of the brain to fire away in another pattern, creating additional memory paths.

Argument #2

When you hear yourself speak (inside your head):

  • 50% of sound arriving at your brain has come through your ear and
  • 50% of sound is coming from your vocal chords, which makes its way back through connecting tissues to your brain.

So when you hear your voice on a recording, 100% of the sound arrives at your eardrums from the air.


When you speak out loud, the sound passing through your vocal chords and bone hits more connecting fibers in the brain than it would if you were merely hearing the sound. This also creates an additional memory pathway for whatever it is you were saying.

In other words…it‘s yet another way to ingrain the information in your memory!


Source: Trudeau, K. 1997. Mega Memory: How to release your superpower memory in 30 minutes or less a day. NY: HarperCollins

Creating notes from a recorded lecture

Always ask for the professor’s permission first!

Before recording, ask yourself …

  • Is the recording device working properly and do I know how to use it?
  • Does it have a counter so that I can use it to mark important parts of the lecture? Is it reliable?
  • Do I have extra batteries and other necessary materials on hand?

While in class…

  • Sit close to the instructor so your recording is clear.
  • Put the device on your own desk so you can control it.
  • Check the counter when the instructor covers key information. Write down the number— this will make it easier for you to find key information for note-taking and review.

When taking notes from your recording…

Use the counter to review important material and bypass irrelevant material. Set up key information using the Cornell method or a mind map.


Source: Workshop presented by Marlene McIntosh and Diane Berzins, “Integrating Assistive Technology and Learning Strategies”. Cambrian College. date unknown.