Graduate school can be overwhelming, as most of you already know.  There are classes and seminars to attend, research to do, labs to complete, exams to study for, and comps to take.  I’m sure if there was something that could make your routine easier, you’d be up for it, right?  Well, here’s your chance to simplify your life, if only just a little bit, by learning which method of note-taking will work best for you.

I have two blogs in this series; the first is about a couple of note-taking methods and their pros and cons, and the second post will be about helpful tips for you to use in taking notes for grad school.  Some of you might have tried a number of these methods and tips and found what works best for you, and some of you might be having trouble sticking to one method or the other.  Either way, remember to stay consistent within each of your classes so you can be organized and (generally) sane during grad school.


Laptops and tablets have become a popular way of taking notes, both during lectures and while reading articles or books.  Typing notes is much faster than writing them by hand, especially if you have a note-taking software to help you organize and store all your notes in one place.  If you’ve never looked into these and don’t know where to start, the following are some of the best reference managers for grad students: Papers, Endnote, Sente, Mendeley, and Zotero.

I understand that many students like the fact that digitally recording or typing notes is faster than hand-writing notes, but speed might not actually be beneficial.  Typing notes quickly tempts many students to directly copy everything they hear; however, this is not conducive to your learning or engaging with lectures and discussions.  This means that you should mentally be checked in, think about what’s being said, and write down in your own words what it means to you.  This way, you’ll be able to critically think about the lesson and remember it better.


Although the digital form of note-taking has become more and more popular, some students still prefer using the tried and true method of using paper and pen.  Taking notes in this way is best for seminars and lectures with mathematical or statistical equations, physics sketches, sentence diagrams, or any other subjects that involve more drawing and outlining than they do writing strictly text. 


There are, however, drawbacks to taking notes by hand.  Obviously, taking manual notes is more time-consuming than typing them out, and it can sometimes be a hassle.  Keeping notes organized can be difficult, especially if you’re detailed in your note-taking.  If you take notes in spiral notebooks and you fill them out before the end of the semester (which is very possible when taking notes in classrooms and seminars and while reading books and articles), you’ll need to remember what you do with the complete notebook so you can refer to it while studying for final exams or comps.

I have used some of the above strategies myself, but I also researched to find out what other experts have to say about the note-taking topic.  Articles I perused included Note-Taking in Graduate School and How to Take Notes from Your Reading.  The authors of these articles provide a number of ways that all graduate students can use to take notes and absorb them better.  They also include helpful tips, which I will discuss in the second part of this blog.  Which do you prefer: taking notes digitally or manually?


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