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Best Note Taking Methods for Teachers and Students

All universes are infinite. This includes the one above us, but also the one within us. That is why both teachers and students need to develop and use note-taking methods if they don’t want to get lost.

There are three direct advantages of good note-taking:

  1. Better knowledge retention
  2. Increased productivity
  3. Better planning

Additionally, there will be some advantages beyond your academic endeavors if you are good at taking notes. Your memory will improve both when it comes to the things you are taking notes of and in general.

Being able to put your thoughts in order will become crucial when you start working and needing to explain your work. With good notes, presenting what you learned ceases to be stressful and becomes a simple task.

Psychology of Information Management

Human memory and mental information management are very complex. Generally, we tend to think about many things, often sidelining what we need to contemplate. This makes us remember random tidbits that we can’t later combine into the context.

By taking notes, we reinforce our cognitive psychology to focus on the things we need. With repetition, the synapses that lead to such memory become stronger. This way we both have more data to form information and make it easier to retrieve.

Additionally, the rephrasing process when taking notes makes us adapt the information to our structural preference. Even if it is written badly, you will remember it in your own way.

Need to Classify Thoughts

It is impossible to over-stress the importance of classifying your thoughts. As students, it is the best way to learn and answer questions. Something as simple as a line of thought opens up the whole answer.

And when we are at work, or as a teacher, it allows us to know exactly what we are planning and how we aim to achieve our goals. Such actions become irreplaceable when you have a lot of students and even more themes to cover.

Generally, there are two ways to classify thoughts and ideas, which correspond with two types of note-taking methods.

Primarily, there is a linear method that forces all information into a single train of thought. This is best for writing and answering objective questions.

Second, there is the non-linear method that identifies core information and pulls different types of data from it. This is much better for complex creative endeavors.

Finally, most people will use some mixture of the two, depending on the subject and their preferences.

Best Note Taking Methods for Teachers and Students

Best Linear Note Taking Methods

These systems seem similar, as there is only one way to go in a straight line. But there is a key difference. Outlining fills everything in order and filling in places the big chunks of information first and then adds the details.

Regardless, this is the most basic type of taking notes and something everyone should try to incorporate into their routine.

If you are a quick writer, you can simply summarize everything that is said and make an outline. And, if you are slower or unfamiliar with the subject you can focus on the main points first and fill out what you remember later while the data is still fresh in your mind.

#1 Outlining

Outlining is by far the simplest method of taking notes. Similar to how you would see the contents from a book, go as you are getting the information and summarize everything you can.

The only skill necessary is to learn how to translate large chunks of information into something concise. But as you practice you will become increasingly better at discerning the important from the fluff.

#2 Filling In

This method is very useful if you are a writer or need to form some material where you don’t yet know what you will be learning.

The first thing you need to do is to go through the material once and write out the most important points. These will be your main headings. Once you are done, pick the first heading and pass the material again. This time write smaller points as subheadings. Only a few words.

Finally, take each little chunk and fill it out.

This way you will have detailed notes, written in your voice, and remember everything that was inside the textbook.

Best Non-Linear Note Taking Methods

These note-taking methods are slightly harder to master, but generally resonate better with human cognitive abilities. By making Cornell notes or a more elaborate map of information, you can visualize everything you have learned.

It is not as good for productivity as linear notes. But both academic and creative activities are easier for those who practice this type of note-taking.

#1 Cornell Notes

Cornell notes are one of the most popular types when it comes to academic achievement. It is a non-linear variant of the ”filling in” type with two columns and a summary at the bottom.

Generally, you want to pose questions as they pop up during a lecture. You would write these on the right side of the paper. Then, while the info is still fresh, you would fill these out in the left column.

Finally, you will write a summary at the bottom.

Everything important should fit a single page, double-sided only if absolutely necessary.

#2 Mapping

Write the core of the information and expand from that. People high in creativity and low in orderliness will often use such notes instinctively as a doodle.

When mapping, you want to write big pieces of information in the corners of the page, usually in large letters. Next, you will position less important information between the big points.

These actions make your eyes pass important data multiple times, remembering them both in meaning, in writing, and visually. For most brains, mastering such note-taking is the ideal way to learn. But it is also the hardest to make coherent without just making a doodle.

#3 Survey

Often called SQ3R, this is a system that expands from the Cornell system and adjusts it for taking notes from a textbook.

What you want to do is survey the text, pose questions, answer them, read, recite, and review; S-Q-R-R-R. This way you will systemize the information in a way you see fit and use multiple types of intelligence to retain that information

Develop Your Own Style

Although some people will prefer one system over the other, often without an apparent reason for people not inside their head, that is not the complete answer to any problem.

Humans are, after all, both rational and emotional beings and we need to accommodate both of those aspects in our learning.

Usually this will mean making a linear system of notes for the subject as a whole, and leaving the smallest pieces as mapping or Cornell’s to better visualize everything.


Even those of us blessed with excellent memory can’t remember everything. This is because humans aren’t made to remember on demand but either via trauma or repetition.

Thankfully, if you embrace some of the best note-taking methods we have mentioned, you won’t need to repeat the entire textbook. Rather, you will repeat multiple times during a single run-through by writing, reading, and revising what you have written.

And once you master these techniques, they will serve you for the rest of your life.