Personally, notes are a work of art that have to be aesthetically pleasing enough for me to want to go back and read when studying. I used to have certain notebooks from different classes that I just wouldn’t bother reading. Yeah, I would go to class, take notes, and scribble all over them but once I’m outside of the lecture hall, it’s useless. Why? Because looking at my messy and boring notes requires effort to skim through. The enjoyment I received from learning in class is sucked out and spit onto my college-ruled paper via my boring black ball point pen.
However, being in my 3rd semester of college, I believe to have mastered a way to effectively take pretty notes. It’s not necessarily up to par with “bullet journaling” but it is sort of inspired by it. If you’re interested, here’s what you’ll need:
- A pack of multi-colored highlighters. The basic 4-pack with blue, pink, green, and yellow will do. No need for a 24-pack with three different shades of blue.
- Journals/binders of your liking. Take time to pick out a journal you will genuinely enjoy writing in. Some semesters, I splurged and got leather journals from TJ Maxx. This ensured I would avoid writing messy notes because they weren’t cheap. But this year I settled for some colorful spiral notebooks from Target and binders where the loose-leaf paper is my canvas.
- Black or blue ball point pens. Get a pen you enjoy writing with. My favorite pens to write with are the free ones you get, particularly hotel pens. They’re thin but inky. Do you, though. Also, I don’t recommend buying colorful pens. To use all the ones you want during class is time consuming and unnecessary.
Penmanship: It’s something to take into consideration but truth be told, as long as you can understand your own writing, that’s all that matters. At one point I went through a calligraphy phase but have since given up on that career and just incorporate parts of it in my notes.
Bulletting: Figure out how you’d like to bullet and essentially organize your notes. If you’re going to be copying down straight from the power point, you can just use the title of the slide followed by bullets underneath + any additional notes you may want to add. I use a few different types of bullets– arrows, asterisks, circles that vary in diameter, x’s, etc. It’s not entirely random, however. I’ve added meaning to most of these in my head.
Personalization: To elaborate on my brief interest in calligraphy, I like to add UMPH to my notes by consciously making an effort to always use my best handwriting. When working on titles, I may draw brackets or a fancy line underneath. On the border of the paper, I might add little dots and squiggly lines. All personalization happens before or after class. If I get there early, I’ll pull out my notes and highlight/doodle wherever I feel lacks zest.
Highlighting: I use the highlighters for two reasons– The first, to continue personalizing the page. When something is colorful in an organized manner, I’m more prone to look at it. The second, obviously, is to point out important information. So I highlight my titles to identify what topic I’m looking for, definitions so they stand out, and the bullet points for pretty. To take highlighting a step further, I also use a key to vary the significance of different highlighting methods. Underline = Mild importance, context for definition, gist of notes | Boxed = Main point for underlined marks | Normal = Probably of higher importance…
Visuals: In addition to taking your notes, having doodles, sketches, or little graphics that are relevant to the topic you’re writing about helps you look through your notes and make connections that will help your memory when studying. This can include diagrams that compare and contrast, charts to show pro’s and cons, side texts with fun facts or mnemonic devices.
> If you’re up for it, see if the professor posts the slides or lecture somewhere online prior to class. This will give you an idea of how they teach and you’ll know how to organize your notes while they’re lecturing.
> The best thing to happen since lined-paper: Witeout. Mistakes happen and I lowkey find it frustrating to look at my scribbled mess. Something about it makes me want to just rip the whole page out and start again but that’s wasteful. So, witeout is a great & eco-friendly alternative.
I’ve received several compliments on my notes and at one point thought of selling/sharing them with others (but ultimately didn’t) and that inspired me to create this fun and informal guide to note-taking. The pictures I used are from two classes I enjoyed taking: advertising (my major) & psychology. My genuine interest in those courses motivated my prime note-taking skills so keep that in mind.
Good luck with all your endeavors this semester & may you get A’s on all your exams.