Note Taking

Whether you are in a traditional or online classroom, you will need to develop a good note taking system. Note taking is important because it reminds you of ideas discussed in a text, traditional lecture or online lecture and helps you:

  • Identify and record important ideas.
  • Understand what you are learning.
  • Discover links to previous learning and applications to your future courses or work.

You can choose from many note taking strategies. Some are more suited for visual learners while others work for read/write learners. If you know your learning style, you may want to consider choosing a note taking strategy based on that. If you don't, experiment with a strategy that bests suits your reading material.

Learn more by reviewing the popular note taking methods listed below. Each method provides you with a short description of the strategy and an example of how it is used. The information in each example is based on the article "Coping with Life in the Stress Lane" which describes what stress is and suggests using a simple stress management plan. As you review each strategy, think about how you might apply it. Remember, there is no right or wrong way! The method you choose depends on what you need to learn and how you learn.


Do you like to structure information with headings and subheadings? If so, try the outlining method that uses numbers, bullets or indentations to show the hierarchy of information. Below is an example of how you might outline the article "Coping with Life in the Stress Lane." This hierarchical structure gives a visual reminder that the article has five main sections. It explains stress, provides information about the "fight or flight" response, identifies common stressors, and tells how to recognize and manage stress symptoms using the A-B-C formula.

Download the pdf here.

Cornell Note Taking System

Another strategy that you can use is the Cornell note taking system. In this note taking method, create a narrow column on left side of the page and a wider column on the right. Key words, concepts and questions go in the left margin; explanations and notes go on the right. At the bottom of the page, include a summary of the most important ideas or concepts.

View an example of Cornell notes using the article, "Coping with Life in the Stress Lane."

This flexible system can be combined with other strategies, such as outlining. The Cornell method is also a great active review tool. Simply cover the information in the right column with a piece of paper and quiz yourself with the questions and keywords found in the left column. You are forced to actively recall the information, but you can quickly confirm your learning by checking your notes in the right column.

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping is another effective method of note taking. In this system, key words, phrases and concepts are written down in bubbles and uses branches to show the connections between ideas. Mind mapping is a powerful visual learning strategy, that increases comprehension by forcing you to think about the relationship between ideas. You can create mind maps on paper or on a computer, using simple tools. Using a variety of colours or styles will make the information more memorable.

Here is an example of a mind map using the article, "Coping with Life in the Stress Lane."

For more information on mind mapping and to download free programs, check out the following sites:

  • Mind Tools provides a short video on mind mapping to get you started.
  • XMind and FreeMind give users free, open source software for mind mapping and brainstorming.
  • Instagrok and SimpleMind (for Apple or Android) are free apps for your devices.

Flash Cards

Flash cards, or index cards, are another effective method of note taking. The idea here is straightforward – put a key word or concept on one side of the card in the form of a question, and write the answer on the opposite side. You now have a handy tool for quizzing yourself.

Here are some examples of index cards based on the article, "Coping with Life in the Stress Lane." After you read the question on the first side, click on it to see the answer:

For more information on creating interactive index cards on the computer, check out the following sites:

  • "Quizlet". Here, you can create flashcards for any subject. To get started, click on the video tour link on the home page.
  • You can also use the website “Study Guides and Strategies.” This site allows you to quickly create a set of five flashcards. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and enter your terms and answers in the empty boxes.

Virtual Notebook

Note-Taking Apps & Technology

There are many electronic note-taking tools available. Some popular tools include Evernote, One Note, and Notability. For some ideas on how to use Notability, check out this video.

Another option is the Smart Pen, which is a note-taking and recording device with incredible capabilities.