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A Few Notes on Notes: Taking Studying to the Next Level


My first semester in college, I had one goal – well, I actually had several goals, but it sounds more dramatic to say this was my only one – to take notes that I could share with people if needed.  My two best friends had just started college as well and I wanted to be able to help them in similar classes to what I was taking.

Slight problem; I had no idea how to take ‘good’ notes.

I knew I wanted to incorporate color, so my first semester, I divided my notebook into classes by using one color per subject.  This worked…okay…but while it was effective for telling subjects apart, it didn’t allow me to study effectively.

So my next semester, I would divide my notes with each paragraph being a different color than the ones surrounding it.  This was better, but there was no sense of organization.  Sophomore year, I started associating certain colors with certain things to include in my notes.  Green for definitions, pink for important things, etc.  This was much better, but I still felt like I was overloaded looking at a page that was nothing but bright colors.

It took me until junior year to discover a black pen, and finally, I had a note-taking system that I was super happy with.

I’m sharing this with you today because we are currently all taking online classes, whether we all like it or not, and I’ve often heard that students struggle to take good notes in online classes.

I’ve also been told recently that my notes look like artwork, which was the best compliment anyone could have ever given me, and I want to share my personal system with you.

Please remember that this is what works for ME – and I have done some research into it, so it is likely to work for others as well, but everyone is different, so take it with a grain of salt and be willing to adapt as needed to fit your own needs.

Without further ado, let’s get into my tips for amazing notes in online classes.  (Note: this system can also be used in the fall for in-person classes as well!)

  1. Your first step is to take notes while reading your textbook. Once you master your note-taking system, reading a textbook will get much easier as your eyes will be drawn to the information that you know you need to write down.  Look for names, new words with definitions, things in bold, headings, and diagrams.  Many textbooks also have a “Remember this” page at the end of each chapter, so that can be a great place to study!
  2. Next step is to take notes during the lecture – yes, AFTER you read the chapter in your textbook. Your professor might add some anecdote about something that makes what you read in the textbook stick better.  Additionally, reading your chapter before the lecture can help you to know what questions to ask in class – and don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything that confuses you.  Chances are, if you’re confused, someone else is, too.
  3. After this, find the PowerPoint on BlackBoard (if your professor uses them.) If your professor doesn’t add the PowerPoints to BlackBoard, reach out and ask them to!  Review over the slides and fill in any gaps in your notes.  You shouldn’t have to write down every slide word-for-word, but be sure to get all the important info or info you think you’ll struggle to remember otherwise.
  4. Review over your notes before a test, and consider rewriting them completely if it’s a big test. This repeated writing will sear the words into your brain.  This is also why it is important to take physical notes with a pen and paper, as muscle memory of writing the words can help you to remember what you wrote better than typing it can.
  5. Finally, review your notes after a test. This might seem pointless, but it can actually be quite helpful in improving your future studying.  Was there something on the test that wasn’t in your notes?  Was there something on the test and in your notes but you couldn’t remember it?  Find any problems with your note-taking system and improve on them before the next test!

Personally, I like to buy a hardback 300-page notebook from Walmart every August (typically around $8, but you can sometimes find them on sale for cheaper!)  300 pages lasts me two average semesters, so I normally only have to make this investment once per year.

Additionally, I am absolutely in LOVE with G2 pens.  They are long lasting gel pens that come in a variety of colors.  You can buy a 20-pack with 15 colors in it for around $20 on Amazon, which once again, is a once-per-year investment, and normally I have several pens that still have ink in them.

Want to know what I use all those colors for?  I’m glad you asked:

Before you get into anything else, give each class a color, and at the beginning of each class session write the name of the class in that color at the top of your page.  Add the date, as well.

*Then use blue for headings.
-Chapter names, section titles, and main topics are good for your headings.

*Also, use an asterisk before anything you want to draw your eye to.

-Under the heading you can start in on the points.  I typically use black or navy blue for the body text.  You can also use dashes to separate paragraphs or points.

-If a word seems important, is someone’s name, or is bold on the PowerPoint, put it in Pink or Red.  This draws your eyes to that word, just like putting it in bold does.  (Note for in-person classes: if a professor puts a word on the board, it’ll be pink!)

  • Speaking of that, put new words in Green: And a definition after a colon.
  • Bullet dots: Good for things related to a main topic but that need to be separated from the main body.

*If something is super important or the professor says “This will be on the test,” put it in Orange or highlight it!

-This makes your brain pay extra attention to it in order to read it since it is brighter, making you more likely to remember it.

  1. List items in Purple…

-…but continue to keep your body text in your main color.

  1. This makes your eye drawn to the items in the list…

-…and relates them to each other since purple is a secondary color that your brain processes differently.

-Feel free to draw diagrams, charts, and pictures of things shown in class, especially if the professor draws them on the whiteboard.

  • You don’t have to be an artist, just good enough to get the gist of what was shown.
  • You can do the main shape of these pictures in pink or orange then write any text in your body color.
  • Finally, add page numbers to the bottom of each page.  This makes it easy to flip around and find what you need quickly.

Taking good notes can help you to excel in your online and in-person classes. Once again, my system works for me and might not work for you, so please feel free to adjust based on your personal needs.

Got any tips for A+ notes?  Share them with us in the comments!

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    Nicolette PiaubertApr 16, 2020 at 9:05 pm

    Hi Amanda,

    My name is Nicolette Piaubert, CEO and founder of Gab-Nic Excelsior Nursing Tutoring Center. I love this article entitled “A few notes on Notes: Taking Studying to the next level”. As a RN and an educator myself, I agree with your idea to take studying to the next level. If the usual technique won’t work anymore, then we have to upgrade it in order to be effective. I was once a student too, so I feel you.

    That is why I have created an online course dedicated to helping students understand their learning styles and what studying techniques that will fit to them. I’ve written a book that is in the process of publishing entitled, “A Fail Proof Success Plan: 13 Steps to ” that focuses on how one can study in order to get exceptional grades in order to obtain ones desired career. I would love to have a deeper conversation about this with you and figure out a possible solution, you may contact me at [email protected] or 917-602-9927. Looking forward to connect with you.

    Nicolette Piaubert

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A Few Notes on Notes: Taking Studying to the Next Level