How to take notes

How to take notes in lecturesWhen it comes to how to take notes in lectures we all have different methods. Here the three best note taking styles I’ve used:

Standard Method:

This is the basic note taking style. If you’ve ever taken notes at college, it’ll probably be like this. It is set out in a logical linear format, going straight down the page. Sometimes using numbers or lines help split and divide up sections.

This is some notes based from a reading, but the format used is the same:


  • Easy to write
  • Clear to read
  • Great to use with a simple structure
  • Great to emphasis points


  • Looks really dull (even though the colours in this one liven it up)
  • In a lecture, you risk just copying down what the lecturer said or is on the powerpoint without thinking about what you should write
  • You can’t add ‘side notes’, or ‘to dos’ easily

Mind-Map Method

As you can guess, these are much more visual! I can’t study with mind-maps, but I think they’re great for just throwing ideas down onto paper. You can link ideas together really easily, and making a mistake seems less annoying!

There are two ways of doing these: either start from the centre and build outwards (just like a mind map); or, build a load of mini mind-maps (based around each topic covered). I prefer the latter. I make a ‘centre’ for each new topic or theory the lecturer covers (which they generally cover in a few slides), so can build the map outward depending on how I think things connect.


  • Really easy to write
  • Doesn’t distract you whilst writing
  • No fixed order
  • Easy to link ideas
  • Visually appealing to look at
  • Easy to add to later


  • Takes a bit of time to get used to
  • Each ‘centre’ has limited space around it (you end up finding your own work-arounds)
  • Can get messy!

Split-Page Method

This is an awesome method for note taking, and I’d advise everyone to give it a go! It allows you to take notes easily, using the Standard Method, but pushes you to come back to your notes later to finalise them. It comprises of 2 or 3 sections: a Margin, the Main Note section, and an optional Summary section.

The Margin is for comments and notes. I would add ‘To Dos’ in here, such as “Check out  book by so-and-so“. A key method I developed was to use pencil in the margin. That way, as soon as I’d completed my ‘to do’ I could erase it! This also had an added bonus: I made sure I had a pencil. Which lead (pun intended) me to develop another technique in the Main Note section.

The Main Note section can be set out however you want it to be. I’ve seen most examples use the Standard Method here. I mostly tended to opt for the mini mind-map method, but the example below is sort of a mixture.

Now, what’s great about having a pencil is that if I don’t have enough time to copy down a quote from a slide, I can dedicate space to filling it in later. This way, when I go back to my notes, I know where I missed a point and can simply fill it in (even digitally, as below)! This makes for much neater notes. Notice there’s a space with the Margin note “Go over slides”, on page 2.

The Summary section is exactly what it says it is: a summary. When you have time, go through and summarise that part of the lecture, or the whole lecture. You choose!



  • Awesome technique, specifically for Lectures
  • Makes going back over notes so much easier!
  • You can write yourself ‘to dos’ or other notes
  • When combined with mind-maps, super visually appealing
  • Quick
  • Simple to understand
  • Pencils!


  • Using this effectively take a few attempts
  • Temptation to write a lot
  • Chance of being lazy and saying, ‘oh I’ll write it later’, then never going back to notes


These are just a few examples of how to take notes on paper. I digitise all my notes after I’ve gone through them (using Evernote). That gives me the best of both worlds: speed in class, and portability & accessibility at anywhere with Wi-Fi. My advice would be to master the Split-Page Method as early on as possible. Try incorporate mini mind-maps when making notes on your readings, and then combine them to make the awesome Split-Page Mini Mind-Maps Method.

In closing, it really is down to you to figure out what works best for you. Note taking is very personal. During one module, with a lecturer that spoke particularly quickly, I found it more useful to  not take any notes, sit at the front and just give my full attention to the lecturer. So have a play and listen to your brain, it’ll tell you which method to use. Or even not to use!

Have you got any cool note-taking methods you think should be shared?

Cover Photo Credits: Brady, Flickr

Note examples were provided by the author.

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