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Effective Note-Making For Success In Exams: Techniques and Tips

  • 18 Jan 2023

Note-making is a valuable skill that can help you retain information, organize your thoughts, and prepare for exams or presentations. In the Indian education system, known for its high level of competition, note-making can be an important tool for students to help them navigate the competition and succeed academically. Additionally, note-making can also be an important tool for students preparing for competitive exams such as the UPSC Civil Services Exam.

In this blog post, we will discuss different types of note-taking methods, tips for effective note-making, and how they can be applied in the Indian education system and competitive exams.

One of the most important aspects of note-making is the method you choose. Different methods are suited for different types of information and learning styles. Here are a few popular methods:

1) Outlining Method

The outlining method is the simplest method of note-taking. It encourages using pointers and sub-pointers to frame your notes.

Start with diving your chapter into 4-5 main key points and keep adding your notes as sub-notes within those pointers.

This method usually works when there is a lot of content. It makes it easier to refer to and understand the relationship between points. Subjects like history, psychology and sociology can be best noted down with the outlining method.

However, it does have shortcomings. You might get more focused on filling spaces rather than understanding concepts. This method usually works better when you have access to laptops. Moreover, it might permit thoughtless recording and mindless notes.

2) The Cornell Method

The Cornell Method is slightly more focused and consuming than the outlining method. This method asks you to divide your paper into three parts- keywords, notes and summary.

The keywords include important retention questions, main keywords for the subject and important keys to answering questions. The notes section is where you note down charts, tables, running notes and pointers in class. The summary section helps the notes come together and make sense.

The Cornell method should be used because it encourages active learning. It also takes the form of a more organised and cognitive-friendly learning method.

However, this method is criticised because it hardly leaves any space for the notes section after the partitioning. Moreover, it is time-consuming and requires constant dedication to writing summaries.

3) The Boxing Method

The Boxing method refers to taking notes in small boxes throughout the page to understand the relationship between concepts better.

It is usually used for relating concepts and explaining the differences between two concepts. It highlights key points and is used alongside outlining method.

The boxing method helps your notes stay organized and straight to the point. It makes it easier to connect concepts and is best used for planned lectures and textbook notes.

However, this method is often frowned upon because of the constant need to make boxes and lectures to stay highly structured and organized.

4) Mind-Mapping Method

The Mind-Mapping method gives way to a more interrelated concept. It is usually used for complex subjects like history, psychology, sociology and philosophy.

Mind mapping requires you to have one main idea and then branch out into several smaller ideas, sub-ideas and so on. It helps to understand the overall hierarchy of the chapter or lesson concerned.

This method is great for visual learners who understand diagrams better. Moreover, it summarises chapters in an organised format.

However, details can be easily overlooked and more often than not, it has high distraction potential. Users of this method might get more focused on the ‘maps’ or diagrams they make rather than the actual content and its relevance.

5) Charting Method

The Charting method promotes active recall like the Cornell method and connects concepts like the mind-mapping method. The charting method is great for visual learners as well.

It involves creating a table or Venn diagram with all the important details you require while understanding a concept. It helps when you’re struggling to remember things.

This method is great for active recall and remembering facts and bits of information you might overlook. It reduces the amount of writing required and strikes a comparison and similarity between difficult concepts quite easily.

However, the charting method is not great because some details cannot be classified into charts. Moreover, charts are often time-consuming to make and require skills and dedication to complete.

6) Flow Method

The Flow Method is based on three things- simplify, visualize and connect. This method is best for subtopic-heavy subjects like anatomy and philosophy.

This method involves the use of arrows, bubbles, squares, flowcharts, algorithms and funny doodles to write down information. It requires the use of the creative and the processing parts of your brain while noting things down as fast as you can.

The flow method is great as it gets your creative juices flowing- making your brain more active. It also encourages simplifying difficult concepts in your own words and is easy to use.

However, this method often leads to disorganized notes and idea maps. It needs the user of this method to understand concepts in their own idea and language. Hence, it might not be the best tool for college students who start preparing one day before their exam.

7) Slides/Presentation Method

The Presentation Method is a method that involves using your professor’s notes and slides to fill in the blanks in concepts that aren’t recorded.

This method is often used by people who might be considered ‘lazy’ or not be bothered to take notes. It involves taking a xerox of the professor’s slides and noting down the concepts that aren’t in those in the xerox itself.

This method is great for college students who save time and energy by only expanding on the concepts since the general idea is already given in the slides.

However, this method can encourage laziness and passive learning. Moreover, it could lead to disengagement in lectures and disinterest in the studying material. Lastly, small details could easily be overlooked in this method.

In addition to choosing the right method, there are several other tips that can help you make effective notes. Here are a few to keep in mind:

  • Write by hand: Writing by hand has been shown to help with memory retention, as it involves more cognitive processing than typing. Plus, it’s a great way to break away from screens and focus on the task at hand.
  • Use abbreviations and symbols: To save time and space, use abbreviations and symbols when taking notes. This will also help you develop your own shorthand system, which can come in handy when you’re in a rush.
  • Organize your notes: Use headings, bullet points, and indentations to organize your notes and make them easy to read and understand. This will also help you find specific information quickly.
  • Summarize: Don’t write down every single word from a lecture or text. Instead, try to summarize the main ideas in your own words. This will help you understand the material better and make it easier to review later.
  • Review regularly: To retain information, it’s important to review your notes regularly. Try to go over them within 24 hours of taking them and then again a few days later. This will help solidify the information in your memory.
  • Highlight: Highlighting is a great way to draw attention.

Which note-taking method is the best?

The best note-taking method has to be based on the material and information you have to record. For some, it might be the Cornell method while others may use the flow method.

In conclusion, note-making is a powerful tool that can help students navigate the high level of competition in the Indian education system and succeed academically. It can also be an an important tool for students preparing for competitive exams such as the civil services exam.

By understanding the different types of note-taking methods, using effective note-making techniques, and reviewing notes regularly, students can better understand and retain the material they’re learning, which can give them an edge in their studies and career.

Additionally, note-making can also be personalized to match learning style and preferences, it is important to experiment with different methods and find what works best for you. Remember, note-making is a skill that needs to be practised and perfected over time, so be patient with yourself and keep working on it!


Advantages and disadvantages of different note taking methods Archives. (n.d.). Chrismukiibi.com. https://chrismukiibi.com/tag/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-different-note-taking-methods/

Ho, L. (2019, November 18). 7 Simple Note Taking Techniques for Efficient Learning. Lifehack. https://www.lifehack.org/856826/note-taking

Jess Doshi

Jess Doshi is currently pursuing her bachelor's degree in Arts. Apart from reading, she makes a conscious effort to do what she can for society. She aims to help the world around her in the best possible way-writing.

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