EDUCATION & GRADES

Straight A Student’s Fast & Easy Note-Taking System [Ultimate Guide]

Charlotte Bailey, Founder of Typically Topical, Study Skills Expert, Top 2% Student.

June 2019

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As an uber busy student with heaps of exams, have you ever wondered what it would feel like to be organised ALL THE TIME? Yeah, me too. But this is definitely a close second 😉

Here’s the Straight A Student’s Fast and Easy Note-Taking System From a Straight A student. I’ve split this post into before, during and after classes so you can see what happens at each stage.

This is one of the study systems I used before, during and after class to achieve 45A* grades, 12 A*s overall and maintain a 1st class honours degree in uni whilst working full time, so yeah…it works pretty well.

Straight A Student’s Easy Note-Taking System

Before Class

Pre-reading & Making Notes

If you already know which topics you’re going to learn in class, I highly recommend you read through the relevant chapters of your textbook(s) to familiarise yourself with key concepts and ideas.

Textbooks often have highlighted areas of interest or key words written in bold which suggests that they’re crucial to understand.

Checking Your Understanding

During your pre-reading sessions, it’s a great idea to make a note of any concepts or themes which don’t make sense to you. During the lecture/class, you’ll then know where to pay extra attention.

You can make a note of these on a post-it note, or you can simply highlight them in your notebook.

How do I layout my notebook for a pre-reading session?

This depends on your personal note-taking style, but I recommend splitting your notebook page into 2 sections, one for your pre-reading notes, and one for your class notes.

Your pre-reading notes should be bullet points as opposed to long form sentences. Try to write your notes in your own words too.

If you’re in university or your high school requires referencing, make sure to add the author, year of publication, page number and book name next to the section you’ve paraphrased (put into your own words).

Pro Tip: Your notes don’t have to look as pretty and neat as most Youtube study videos will make you believe. As long as you can read them afterwards, and they contain the important points, that’s all you need. 

During Class

Common Myths Exposed

1) You have to write everything down that’s said by the lecturer

Writing everything down isn’t a good idea. Chances are, you’ll end up noting a TON of irrelevant information.

Not sure what is relevant and what isn’t? Listen out for trigger phrases (see below).

2) You should only make notes on the stuff that you don’t know

Ah! This one just makes me cringe. When you come to revise and study later, you won’t have a full set of information to work with if you do this.

Even if you’re already familiar with an idea or concept, make sure it note down during the lesson. Our memory only holds so much short-term information before it forgets it.

3) You should just record the entire class and write notes up later

Whilst I highly recommend you record your classes (if allowed), this note-taking ‘method’ is dangerous, because it leads to complacency during lectures.

Let’s face it, if you’ve just sat through an hour lecture, chances are you’re not going to want to spend another hour listening to the lecture again and then writing your notes.

4) You should always write notes by hand as that’s what all the research tells you to do

This depends on your personal preference. Whilst there has been some research to suggest that handwritten notes aid in better memorisation, typed notes can be easier to study from at a later date. Typing your notes during lectures is also much quicker than handwriting them, so for speed and accuracy, typed notes is a winner.

Listen out for trigger phrases & emphasis

As you’re listening in class, listen out for key phrases your lecturer or teacher says and note the short length answer in your notebook.

Phrases such as ‘there are 3 major reasons why X happened…’, ‘the 2 main implications of this are…’ and ‘this key event happened during X because of X…’ are all good things to note here. 

Dates, event names and topic key phrases are also good to record.

Make sure you’re only writing short, key phrases and not everything your teacher or lecturer says.

Help! My teacher speaks fast…

If you’re worried you’re going to miss some key information whilst you’re writing away, I highly recommend checking out this digital voice recorder so you can record your lessons to play back at a later date if you wish! Just make sure you have permission to record the class.

How do I make notes in short form?

You can either bullet point or note keywords and phrases. 

Example: Lecturer says ‘Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus. Roman legend says that Romulus had a twin brother called Remus. As babies they were abandoned in the area which later became Rome. A she-wolf found and raised them, but when they grew up Romulus fought and killed Remus and became the first ruler of Rome!’ It would be possible to write all of this down. 

So you might write something like this: ‘Rome founded 753BC Romulus. Romulus twin brother Remus, abandoned babies, she-wolf raised, Romulus fought + killed Remus – Romulus became first ruler Rome’.

Key points only. See how much faster this is to write?

After Class

File your notes the right way after class

Trust me when I say this is a life-saving tip, especially if you have a lot of classes! I can’t remember how many times I used to write notes on a template or in a notepad only to spend a good 30-45 minutes shuffling through all of them trying to find the right ones for each subject!

I purchased a cheap expandable file, and inside labelled each division with a subject e.g. biology, chemistry, physics etc, and at the end of each class, simply filed my notes into the right division for that subject. Easy peasy. 

This is the file I used, but there are plenty of other styles too.

You can check out expandable files here!

When you get back home, you can then transfer your notes from the expandable file to an A4 ring binder. I prefer to have one for each subject, but again that’s your choice.
 

Pro Tip: Have homework or essays to hand in for each subject? Create a separate division for them too. Super duper easy organisation.

Make a copy of handwritten notes

Handwritten notes are easy to lose. I recommend scanning them and saving them to a computer and USB stick so you always have a digital copy.

Review notes and gap fill with textbook if needed

I recommend you do this as soon as possible. Studies have shown that students who review material within the first 24 hours of being taught new material retain the information 8x better in the long run than students who never review the information or even those who review it a few days later. 

If you have access to a syllabus/curriculum, make sure you’ve covered everything you need to know about this topic. If you find gaps, make sure to fill them in. 

Related: Not sure how to fill in gaps in your notes? Check out How to get top grades even if you don’t attend a good school.

Weed out irrelevant notes

This one takes a little practice, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. If you find that you end up writing a TON of ‘filler’ information in your notes during classes, take some time after class to strip your notes back to the necessary information.

Trigger phrases will always be crucial information. Dates, themes, concepts, people’s names are always good to keep too.

Ask yourself ‘is this just nice to know information rather than crucial?’, if the answer is yes, chances are you can scrap it. 

Reflect over pre-reading difficult concepts

Remember that post-it note you made? Now is a good time to make sure you fully understand those concepts.

Still struggling with some of them? That’s okay. Now would be a good time to either pop by your teacher’s office, or send them an email asking for additional guidance. 

Pro Tip: Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed asking for help. The most successful students do it all the time. I used to ask a ton of questions if I didn’t really understand something.

If you found this guide useful, please feel free to share it!

Over to you

And…there you have it, a quick and easy (because that’s how we roll here) note-taking system for you to use and implement.

Let me know in the comments what you’d like to see next.

Go get those grades, Charlotte x