Note Taking techniques for different learning styles

Who might this blog post be useful for?: Anyone who wants to improve their note taking skills

What study skills challenges can this app help you overcome?: Note-taking.

What is the tool or study skills strategy?: A summary of five different note taking methods.

Recently on the blog we have discussed the CARE (Capture Annotate, Review and Engage) note taking method with Audio Notetaker and How to use the Cornell Note Taking method: Two column notes.

This blog post will cover some other kinds of note taking including the outline, flow, ‘writing on the slides’ and mindmap methods. I really recommend you watch the video below, it is fully subtitled and is a great summary of the main note taking methods out there.

Thomas Frank discusses the generally accepted top 5 Note Taking methods:

1. The Outline Method


Based on bullet points and hierarchy. Top level bullet points of the main points, lower level bullet points are where the details come in. If you are taking outline notes on paper it is best to either space out your main bullet points or summarise them at the top and then make more detailed bullet points down the line.

This is best for word processing software, because you can go back and add new bullet points, rearrange points and still come out with a coherent document.

2. Cornell Method

screen shot of cornell method template

I recently discussed this method in my blog post How to use the Cornell Note Taking method: Two column notes.

Splitting the page up into two columns with a section at the bottom, you take down notes in the large right-hand Notetaking Column during your lectures. As soon as you can after your lecture you go back in to fill in the Cue and Summary segments, on the left and in the bottom segment respectively.

You can do this method on paper or with word processing software.

3. The Mind Map system

screen shot of a mind map

Begin with a blank piece of paper or Mindview, Inspiration or XMind file. Create a central topic and draw branches outwards from there, creating subtopics as you go.

This method is great for visual learners, but can get a little hectic when you’re writing at speed if you choose to use paper. You might be better off using the computer for creating mindmap notes of lectures or seminars where you have lots of information to capture in a limited time frame. Another benefit of using a computer is that you can rearrange, colour code and edit your branches and information later without ending up with a completely illegible piece of paper.

4. The Flow Method

screen shot of flow technique example

Invented by writer Scott Young, who uses holistic learning. Frank notes that “this approach is diametrically opposed to the rigid transcribing style of the outline method”. The point of this method is not to transcribe but to learn as you sit in your lecture or seminar.

Your notes should represent your mental process of learning, with arrows, offshoots, questions and important information. The point of this system is to only learn the material once. However, if like me, you would be worried you didn’t capture everything, I would say you could successfully combine this method with a dictaphone or even a smartphone recording of the lecture that you can return to later.

If you can access lectures via MyEcho or Lecture Capture, you don’t need to worry about recording, and this could be a really good method for you.

5. Writing on the slides method

screen shot of sound cloud











This is the easiest and most convenient method. The slides mirror the flow of the lecture and you can add relevant notes at the necessary points. You should generally be able to access slides before your lectures, and if you are unsure of how to ask, you can read a tutorial on How to ask lecturers for access to material before lectures and seminars on this blog.

However, I find that when I take notes in this way, I sometimes assume that because I have the slides printed that I will automatically know it all later (without putting any effort into learning) and I don’t write enough notes, or I don’t absorb the information at all. I have used this method when revising before though, by playing lecture recordings, making brief notes on the slides and then condensing the printed slides by writing them out in smaller and smaller summaries.

It’s worth experimenting with different styles, and seeing how you can make them work for you, if you can combine them with your assistive technology, and which you find most efficient!

Thanks for reading,