In every class, there is always someone with the seriously organized and color-coded binder with impeccable notes. That may not be you. It certainly was not me back in school! While notes are not the only way to study, they are a key way to help you organize information to make life for future-you easier.
Here are the best note-taking tips that I have picked up throughout the years for those that struggle to stay organized:
- Stay consistent with your color code.
This one comes first because this is the one that can help you shave hours off your studying time if done correctly. Writing different things in different colors will allow you to skim through your notes to identify key information that you are looking for much faster. One example of this is to write general information in black ink, items to be memorized such as equations and definitions in red ink, and draw any diagrams or figures in blue ink. What's important here is that you keep the same color code throughout all of your notes so that over time, it becomes second nature. This helps immensely when revising as your brain will learn to recognize that things written in specific colors should be memorized while other things can just be read over.
- Highlight headings to differentiate them.
Highlighting is something that is risky a lot of the time as many students find that once they pick up their highlighter and get started, they tend to want to highlight the majority of information. A good way to combat this issue is to only highlight headings. Have a system for different levels of headings and stick to it. This can help future-you understand how to categorize different sections of your notes. For example, use the order of colors in a rainbow to denote heading hierarchy: pink highlight for subject headings, orange highlight for unit headings, yellow highlight for chapter headings, green highlight for sub-chapter headings, blue highlight for specific topics within a sub-chapter, and purple highlight for more specific examples.
- Have a bullet point hierarchy.
Another way to organize information to help you understand the grouping of information is to use a bullet point hierarchy. Again, it is best if you stick to the same system for all of your notes so that your brain learns to recognize how information should be retained. For example, for main points, use an asterisk (*). For sub-points one level down, use a dash (-). For sub-sub-points, use a dot (.) etc.
- Organize information into large flow charts on A3 paper.
Sometimes, the brain needs to see a visual representation of how all the different pieces of information connect together in order to have a good understanding. Remember, this is a good way to represent complicated relationships between different pieces of information in a simple way, so don't go crazy trying to incorporate too many details. The key is to just put down as much as necessary to remind you of how the information connects to other things. For example, the human body's immune response involves a complicated web of relationships between different immune cells. Drawing a flowchart can really help you understand how different processes work together to fight diseases. However, only incorporate how different immune response pathways are related and leave the details for each pathway for the written part of your notes.
- Use sticky notes to add extra information.
Last but not least: have you ever found yourself running out of space on your page or forgetting to add something? This is when sticky notes come in handy. Write any extra information or forgotten information on them and stick them exactly where they need to be on your pages. Personally, I have found that this is a good way to add things to my notes when revising.