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Notetaking Tools: Notetaking Strategies

Methods or Strategies

Taking notes is a crucial skill for law students and critical to success on exams. In law school, your notes are your record of what was covered by your professor. They offer your professor's perspective, which is unavailable in any commercial outline, and they will be one of your primary sources for studying for exams. Effective note-taking can help you discover not only what your professor finds significant and what is likely to be on the exam, but also the larger, primary themes and issues of the course. 

Some students may think that a note-taking system is unnecessary. Perhaps they are right, but you may wish to explore some alternatives to make learning something new easier or more effective. Keep in mind that taking notes is a personal endeavor, what works for one person may not work for another. Furthermore, try not to feel constrained by prior experiences, what worked for you as an undergraduate may not work for you as a law student. Also, keep in mind that your note-taking strategies may change throughout the semester and throughout the years as you adjust to your professors' styles, as your understanding of the subject matter increases, and as you learn more about what you will be tested on at the end of the semester.

Cornell Method

By adhering to the Cornell Method of taking notes in class, using cues and creating summaries, students are compelled not only to focus in class, but also to continue to engage with the material after class is over. In this way, the Cornell Method promotes active learning by students and assists them in retaining the information.

The Cornell Method uses a differently ruled sheet of paper. Rule your paper with a 2 ½ inch margin on the left leaving a 6 inch area on the right in which to make notes, and a 2 inch space on the bottom to summarize the page. During class, take down information in the six-inch area. When the instructor moves to a new point, skip a few lines. As soon after class as possible, formulate questions based on the notes in the right-hand column. Writing questions helps to clarify meanings, reveal relationships, establish continuity, and strengthen memory.  For every significant bit of information, write a cue in the left margin. To review, cover your notes with a card, leaving the cues exposed. Say the cue out loud, and then say as much as you can of the material underneath the card. When you have said as much as you can, move the card and see if what you said matches what is written. If you can say it, you know it.

Use Telegraphic Sentences: Sentences with 5 or fewer words. The objective here is to distil what your professor is saying during class down to the most essential ingredients.

Cornell Note Taking System (pdf)

DaVinci Method

 The DaVinci Method is very similar to the Cornell Method but uses single sheets of paper and it reverses the measurements on the page. Thus, the left-hand side is the Note Taking Area is 6 inches while the right-hand side is a 2.5-inch Cue Area 2.5, with a 2-inch Summary Area at the bottom of the page. The method also includes a title or heading at the top of the page and an illustration, which is often centered on the left-hand side (large part) of the page. Illustrations are key to this method.

Outline Method 

This method uses a hierarchical system.  The information which is most general begins at the far left with each more specific group of facts indented with spaces to the right. The relationships between the different parts is carried out through indenting. No numbers, letters, or Roman numerals are needed, but may be used.

Mind Mapping System 

Mind mapping notetaking is a graphic representation of the content of a lecture. Systems have bubbles and connectors to other bubbles. Many free mind mapping systems are available online such as:

Flow-Based Method

With flow-based note-taking, your goal isn’t transcription it’s learning while in class. The simplest form of flow-based notes is just to write down all the information, except instead of recording it into a bulleted list, you organize it spatially with arrows connecting ideas. It looks more like a hand-drawn mind map with arrows than anything else.

Three principles are used in Flow-Based note-taking:

  1. Simplify.  Write the information in your own words. Use the Feynman Technique.
  2. Visualize. Use diagrams and images to represent new ideas.
  3. Make Connections.  Connect ideas backwards, between topics, and externally with what you already know.


Online Resources

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