3 Note Taking Styles: 5 Major Flaws

There you are, preparing for your exam… looking back over your notes trying to understand what you’ve written. Trying to remember the words the lecturer said AND put into context the scribbles in your notebook. ARRRGGGHHHH!!!!

It doesn’t have to be this way. There IS a better way to take notes that will help you understand, remember and retain more knowledge, especially at a critical time such as your next exam!

Did you know there are 3 traditional ways we take notes?

1. The sentence narrative note taking style – This is where you simply write out word-for-word what you hear. Writing line-by-line as fast as you can. You’re basically a stenographer – focused on capturing the words on paper.

2. The list note taking style – this involves taking down the various ideas as they occur usually in a bulleted list, like the one I just created for the traditional note taking styles.

3. Outline note taking style-

Taking notes in a hierarchical sequence using major and

sub categories.

In a waterfall- like structure as shown here

Did you know that these 3 traditional note taking styles have 5 major flaws?

1. Lack of visual cues. As you can tell from the traditional styles above, they all use linear patterns, symbols and text, but use no visual cues, patterns, images or visualization tools. This is a critical flaw because the mind thinks in visual images and pictures and needs these elements to enable selective recall when it counts – on your next exam.

2. Boring. Traditional note taking styles are monotone, meaning your brain gets bored and switches off! Traditional notes all tend to look the same, hiding important key words and subject headings making it incredibly hard for your brain to remember what matters and what doesn’t. This is where confusion and “muddled” memory comes from. The brain knows it’s “in there” somewhere, but like a pile of papers scattered on the floor, it doesn’t know where it is or where it actually belongs.

3. Time consuming. Creating traditional notes is a monumental waste of time – when compared to their more efficient and effective alternative. Because they are boring and lack visual cues, when taking notes “the old fashioned way”, you tend to just keep writing unnecessarily. By writing more, it means your brain has to sift through even more irrelevant stuff to get to the important things that will be on your exam. To increase recall you need to keep reading and re reading your notes over and over and over and over again hoping something will sink in. The problem is that it makes it harder and harder and harder for the important stuff to stand out!

4. Lack of creative stimulation. Traditional note taking fails to stimulate the brain creatively, relying primarily on the logical left brain hemisphere for recall. That’s why it’s so hard. Failing to allow associations and connections to be made between key words and points, the creative right brain remains switched off.

5. False sense of completion. The traditional note taking formats gives you a false sense of completion because of their linear nature. They appear complete even though the complete lack the all-important conceptual connections and inter-relationships between the points.

How do you take notes and do you struggle with any of these issues?

Well by traditional NOTE taking you might as well be NOT taking.

There is an alternative to overcome these problems and limitations – it’s called mind mapping.

Because mind mapping mimics the brain’s thinking format, it uses radial thinking and visual patterning using colours, lines, pictures and (inter) relationships. By giving your brain many visual symbols to connect with, remembering them when it counts – on your next test or exam will be easy.

Mind maps are colourful and creative by nature with key points, ideas and concepts literally jumping off the page enabling your brain to quickly and effectively search and FIND the information you need, within the proper context.

Creating relationships and linkages are natural to the brain’s memory storing function. One of the best things about mind maps is that they’re less time consuming to create than traditional notes and take a lot less room. Usually, you can fit several pages or even whole chapters on one page mind map. That gives you QUICK ACCESS and also gives you the overall “picture” that traditional note taking lacks.

Mind mapping is really the polar opposite of traditional note taking. Instead of working against the brain mindmapping works with the brain, matching it to increase your memory, retention and comprehension to give you confidence when writing tests and exams.

Keep this in mind: Many highly successful business people admit to using mind mapping as a competitive tool in their businesses. If it works for them, there must be something to it!

CLICK HERE -> To get your hands on the “How To MindMap To Get Better Grades Video Program”.

Psst! Take a look at this blog post and COMPARE it to the mind mapping program description page – which one do you prefer? That’s the whole point!!!

6 Responses to “3 Note Taking Styles: 5 Major Flaws”

  • Hello Dr Marc,

    What I don’t see is how in class I’m going to use Mind Mapping to take notes, looks complicated to me.

    What I’m doing is taking notes in traditional way # 1, and then when get home I will do the Mind Mapping.

    What do you suggest?

    • Arnie,
      You need to transition from traditional note taking to mind mapping. I don’t suggest you try to mind map in class tomorrow. In the blog post from doodling to mind mapping, Paul explains how he got started with mind mapping. I suggest you start as he and I did – gradually. When you take your linear, sequence notes, every once in a while, highlight them with a visual cue, diagram, chart or other illustration – even a stick figure if that’s all you can draw. What you will quickly realise is that with practice, a picture is worth a thousand words. You can capture a 5 to 10 minute lecture component with a few visual elements when you know how to mindmap.

      The key here is to always be comfortable and confident with you progress. You don’t want to try to mind map, get confused and MISS half the lecture.

      Your best strategy is what you suggest – take linear, sequential notes in class and mind map at home. Soon, with practice you’ll be able to mindmap LIVE during the lecture. The challenge when you start is trying to be perfect – Most mind maps are “messy” – that doesn’t matter – what counts is that your BRAIN UNDERSTANDS it and can REMEMBER it when your exam comes around.

      Good luck!
      Dr Marc Dussault

  • Dr. Marc,

    I started with the mind mapping strategy as soon as I received your e-mail and I’m getting great results out of it. Even though when I need a mind map for the whole lesson I need to do it at home by looking at my traditional notes, I started doing little drawings for every concept during the lessons. This drawings help me remember the concepts faster and I’m looking forward to get your study book plus the mind-mapping videos.

  • I’ve started working with your study course and I’ve made a list of my goals. They fall into two categories- Reading and Lecture/Taking Notes. As far as I can tell, there is nothing about learning to read better in your course. I looked at the chapter on taking notes, but I need something more in-depth.

    My goal for note-taking is to take notes that contain the key points I need to know, explain connections between ideas, explain applications to real-world issues, are easy to understand, and make it easier to study for tests.

    I hope that learning to mind map will help me with this, but I would prefer not to purchase a separate course just to learn how. And I am so overwhelmed by the number of posts on this blog. Are there any specific posts here that will help me achieve this goal?

  • Number 5 is so haunting to me. I really do feel like I have accomplished something when I have a page full of notes after a lecture- but you are right. They rarely help me as much as I want them to. I will have to think long and hard about this. Interesting stuff- interesting indeed!

  • Keep on helping us .Thank you
    From Malawi

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